Dingiso Tree-kangaroo (Flannery et al, 1996: 114-115)


Dendrolagus mbaiso
(Flannery, Boeadi and Szalay, 1995)

This animal is my nose.

-- Bogabau Ba Bolobau, Moni Elder, referring to Dingiso as the Centre of His Being. Pogapa, Sudirman Range, Irian Jaya, 15 June 1994.

DINGISO IS A most unusual tree-kangaroo. It is boldly patterned in black and white, and is the only member of its genus that spends most of its time on the ground. As a result, it has an almost comically short tail and long, slender bones. The latter more closely resemble those of terrestrial kangaroos than the thick and stocky bones of other tree-kangaroos, which must be strong enough to endure a leap downward of 20 metres or more.

As Dingiso ages, it develops a saddle of brownish hair around its middle, adding to its striking appearance. It has an exceptionally dense and long coat. This it needs, for it lives at and just below the tree-line, high in the mountains of Irian Jaya. The temperature drops below freezing most nights, while by day cold winds blowing off Irian's tropical glaciers frequently race through its valleys.

Dingiso is unique among tree-kangaroos in possessing remarkable facial markings, which appear to develop with age. There is a white star in the middle of the forehead, and a band of white fur around the base of the muzzle.

The last of the tree-kangaroos to be discovered (being described only in 1995), Dingiso's terrestrial habits and unusual appearance at first confused us as to its relationships. A long and detailed study, however, revealed that it is a close relative of Doria's Tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus dorianus).

The discovery of Dingiso will long remain in my memory. In 1990 I had walked high into the Prinz Wilhelm V Mountain Range in central Irian Jaya. While camping under a rocky overhang at the tree-line, a hunter brought me a single jaw of a tree-kangaroo which he had found lying in a rocky crevasse. Later on I purchased a piece of tree-kangaroo fur that had been fashioned into a war bonnet. Although these relics clearly belonged to a species of tree-kangaroo, I could not identify them more closely. About a year later I received a photograph of a joey which had been taken in Tembagapura. It showed a black and white animal which I could not identify to species.

Then, in May 1994, the chance arose to travel to the Tembagapura area. Within three weeks of our arrival, Jonas Tinal and his 'Four Million Rupiah Dog' had secured an adult specimen. Finally we had enough material to put a name to the new species and begin investigating its biology.

Dingiso is found only in the high montane forest and subalpine scrubs of the Sudirman Range, Irian Jaya. It is rare in the east, where it is hunted. It remains common in the west because of the protection conferred on it by the Moni people. For many Moni, it is an ancestor which must never be harmed. They say that when they meet it in the forest, it raises its arms above its head, revealing its white belly, and whistles. This they take as a sign of its recognition of their kinship. A similar behaviour (without the whistle) has been reported in male Doria's Tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus dorianus), where it is a superiority display. Male Dingiso may be prompted to use this display to any large mammal that intrudes on their territory, including humans.

As yet, very little is known of Dingiso's biology. Females weigh 8.5-9 kilograms, but a male has never been weighed. It eats leaves, does not appear to be particularly sociable, is almost odourless, and extremely tame. Hunters report tempting it out of a tree with a handful of tasty leaves, or simply slipping a noose around its neck and leading it away.

page 114 - 115

Extracts from Tree Kangaroos: A Curious Natural History, Melbourne: Reed Books Australia.
© Copyright by Timothy Fridtjof Flannery, Roger Martin, Alexandra Szalay. Illustrations Copyright by Peter Schouten, 1996.
HTML version produced with permission for Papuaweb, 2004.