Life from a tree kangaroo’s perspective

By John Pickrell 7 November 2013
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Researchers have found a way into the treetop world of the elusive and cuddly marsupial.

FOUND IN THE REMOTE and mountainous cloud forests of Papua New Guinea’s Huon Peninsula, Matschie’s tree kangaroos are tricky buggers to study. 

They feed on leaves, ferns, mosses, fruits and orchids at elevations of up to 3000 m above sea level — an altitude that keeps them fairly elusive to humans. The problem is exacerbated by their rarity; the IUCN listed them as critically endangered in the mid 1990s, and persuading the locals not to eat them has proved a major challenge.

Harbouring a bit of a secret obsession with these little-known, exotic and cuddly marsupials (Dendrolagus matschiei), I was excited to see that researchers led by Lisa Dabek at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, US, have developed an ingenious method to find out what goes on high up in the canopy.

With the help of funding from the National Geographic Society in Washington DC, Dabek’s team managed to attach small cameras on collars around the necks of wild tree kangaroos.

They first trap the animals (mainly by chasing them ’til they leap out of trees, performing a death-defying plunge to the forest floor 18 m or more below) then attach the collars before freeing them again. This turns the fluffy beasties into temporary videographers.

The collars automatically detach a couple of days later for retrieval and  — assuming they escaped the freefall unharmed — the ‘roos are left unscathed to go about their normal business.

Check out the five-minute video below to get a diary-like snippet of tree ‘roo action. A typical day involves taking in the beautiful view over a 6am brekkie of fresh fern, having a good scratch, napping and, if you’re a lady, keeping your pouch spic and span for any developing joeys.

Keep an eye out for more on tree kangaroos in the print edition of Australian Geographic.

Conservation volunteer opportunity: Atherton Tablelands QLD: Tree Kangaroo