Ifola Tree-kangaroo (Flannery et al, 1996: 120-121)


Dendrolagus dorianus notatus
(Matschie, 1916)

The fact that there is no folk memory [of tree-kangaroos among the Kalam people] suggests that they were eliminated earlier [than two generations ago]. The cranium of a tree-kangaroo [found] among other mammal and cassowary bones in a rock cleft above a former cooking shelter in the upper Aunjang Valley at 8000 feet [testifies to its former presence] ...

-- Ralph Bulmer and Jim Menzies, discussing the extinction of Tree-Kangaroos in the Schrader Range, Central Highlands, Papua New Guinea, 1972.

IFOLA HAS THE misfortune to have its distribution centred on Papua New Guinea's central highlands, which is not only the most densely populated region in Melanesia but one of the most densely populated rural areas on Earth. Ifola has survived primarily because it inhabits some very high and remote mountains, such as Mt Giluwe and Mt Stolle, and because it is also found in the thinly populated mid-elevation highlands fringe in areas such as Mt Sisa.

The coat colour of Ifola is distinctive. It varies from very dark chocolate to pale brown, but can always be distinguished by the distinct yellow ring around the base of the tail. Invariably, it has a scattering of silver-tipped hairs over the upper back and limbs, giving it a frosted appearance on these parts. The tail is clothed in a mixture of blackish and yellow hairs.

Living animals are sometimes seen offered for sale on the roadside in the highlands. These individuals have been caught either on the higher peaks, such as Mt Giluwe, or on the highlands fringe. They are destined for consumption (often forming part of traditional marriage payments) or, occasionally, to be kept as pets. The fur of its tail, and its paws and bones, often form important items of decoration in the highlands.

Ifola is a small species, with adult males averaging only 8.2 kilograms and adult females only 6.3 kilograms. Fossils at least 14,000 years old from Chimbu Province may represent a larger ancestor, which may have exceeded 15 kilograms in weight. It seems possible that hunting has resulted in a reduction in the average size of this species over time.

In the wild and in captivity, Ifola are most active in the early morning and evening. They often regurgitate and re-chew their food, much as a cow does, and they drink more frequently than the Grizzled Tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus inustus inustus).

Researchers working on Mt Stolle, where Ifola remains common, report that it descends to the ground at night to feed on regrowth plants growing around their hut, where they frequently heard it going about its business. Ongoing work on Mt Stolle promises to reveal something of the natural history of this poorly known subspecies.

page 120 - 121

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.