Fiwo Tree-kangaroo (Flannery et al, 1996: 126-127)


Dendrolagus scottae subsp. indet.
(Mt Metwa Form)

After I go to Menawa to hunt Fiwo, I may not return for a very long time, maybe five or six years. If I go there too often, the masolai will become angry ...

-- Simon, an Olo hunter from 3Fas Village, describing how he feels about hunting Fiwo, March 1990.

FIWO IS THE only one of the tree-kangaroos discussed in this book that is yet to receive a scientific name. The reason for this is that it is closely related to Tenkile (Dendrolagus scottae), and examination of the small sample available -- only one of the five museum specimens known is an adult with a skull in good condition -- leaves us unable to be certain just how distinct it is.

It appears to differ from Tenkile in that it is smaller, possibly more social, and its jaws are not as narrow. Externally, it resembles a small Tenkile. The only adult male weighed was 9.5 kilograms (as opposed to 11.5 in Tenkile), while the only female was 6.8 kilograms (as opposed to 9-9.5 kilograms in Tenkile).

Fiwo is restricted to the upper slopes of Mt Menawa above 1500 metres. At just over 2000 metres, Menawa is the highest peak in the North Coast Ranges. It is isolated from other high mountains (such as the Bewanis and Torricellis) by areas as low as 550-600 metres elevation. Fiwo is the only species of tree-kangaroo to occur on Mt Menawa, although Finsch's Tree-kangaroo (Dendrolagus inustus finschi) may occur on the northern foothills.

The human population of the Mt Menawa area is small. Almost the entire population lives in the village of 3Fas, several hours walk away from the northern base of the mountain. The few hundred people living in the village make a living by gathering sago and hunting. They rarely hunt on the mountain, for game is abundant in the adjacent lowland forest.

Until the 1970s, the inhabitants of 3Fas regarded the mountain summit as the realm of masolai (spirits) and never ventured there. The story of how this taboo was finally broken is still vividly remembered. Some hunters accompanied the first biologist (an ornithologist) to visit the mountain, to help with collecting. The biologist wished to climb to the mountain summit. Most locals went only as far as the middle slopes, but a few braver souls, emboldened by the fact that the biologist had a gun, accompanied him towards the summit. But even they stopped within a few hundred metres of the peak, and it was only after the biologist had cut a path through dense scrub to reach the summit, and discharged his shotgun as a sign that he was still alive, that they followed.

Despite the fact that some people are now not afraid to climb the mountain, they conduct very limited hunting there, and seem to still retain strong feelings about not hunting Fiwo too often. A detailed survey of hunters revealed that most had captured only a few Fiwo in their life.

Interestingly, Fiwo appears to be quite social, with males, females and their young frequently being encountered together. Groups as large as six have been seen by local hunters. This contrasts with the more heavily hunted Tenkile, where adult males and females seem to spend much of their time apart.

page 126 - 127

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.