An Animal-Lover at Work

TFK talks to a conservation expert about the Matschie’s tree kangaroo

Jan 25, 2012 | By TFK Kid Reporter Rachel Ayres
COURTESY AYERS FAMILY / BRUCE BEEHLER —CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL

When you are trying to save an endangered species, it helps when it’s cute like the Matschie’s tree kangaroo. The cuddly mammal naturally lives in one place in the world: the Huon Peninsula in Papua New Guinea, near Australia.

All About Tree Kangaroos

The Matschie’s tree kangaroo is one of 10 species of tree kangaroos, all of which are endangered or threatened. Dabek chose to work to save the Matschie’s tree kangaroo because she had studied them in captivity and because of their isolation from the other species in the wild.  

A tree kangaroo is typically about the size of a raccoon and weighs around 19 pounds. It has a pouch and a long tail. But unlike the regular kangaroo, tree kangaroos have longer front legs, long claws and thick fur. They live in the high canopy of the rainforest, about 100 to 150 feet in the air. Matschie’s are orange and brown with a face that looks like a teddy bear. They can leap 60 feet to the ground from trees without getting hurt.

A Hero Among Us

In 1996, Dr. Lisa Dabek helped found the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program (TKCP). Now, 15 years later, though still endangered, Matschie’s tree kangaroo populations are stabilizing. Much of the success is due to the work of Dabek, Senior Conservation Scientist at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, Washington, and Director of the TKCP.

According to Dabek, TKCP needed to fix their habitat and work with local clans, some of whom use them for food and ceremonial clothing. ”We and the clans made a compromise,” Dabek told TFK Kid Reporter Rachel Ayres. “The clans would dedicate a part of their land as a ‘no hunting area.’ But they could continue to hunt on their other land. Together they set aside 180,000 acres of land. They called this a ‘Wildlife Bank.’ “

“We have four things here at TKCP we really believe in,” Dabek explains. “One is conserving the tree kangaroos. Two is protecting their habitat. Three is looking at what the community needs, such as helping their schools and health care. And four is training, such as training people to manage the forest and to monitor tree kangaroo populations.”

TKCP has also helped locals sell their coffee. This gives them a way to make money that does not affect tree kangaroos or their habitat. They are now selling coffee to Caffe Vita in Seattle.

Introducing: Crittercams!

In 2009, National Geographic worked with TKCP to put Crittercams on the tree kangaroo. This gave scientists a window in to what their daily life was like.

With the cameras, they discovered that tree kangaroos eat many species of plants, including orchids, moss, bark and leaves. “We also discovered that the tree kangaroos are crepuscular, which means they are active in the morning, rest a lot during the day, and are active again in the dusk,” said Dabek.

Animal behavior has always been interesting to Dr. Dabek. “When I was 8 years old, a friend and I wrote down what we wanted to be when we grew up and sealed it inside an envelope to open when we were teenagers.” Dabek says. “When I opened it I was reminded that I wanted to be an animal trainer. And that is kind of what I am today.”

For more information about TKCP, visit www.zoo.org/treekangaroo.