Changing Planet

Cross a Kangaroo, Koala, Sloth, Monkey, and Bear and This Is What You Get

“When you’re a kid and you think of a very magical place, this is it,” says Lisa Dabek, picturing the lush Papua New Guinea cloud forest. Even the wildlife sounds like something out of a children’s book. “It’s kind of a hybrid of a kangaroo, a koala, a sloth, and a monkey. And a bear,” Dabek says, describing the elusive Matschie’s tree kangaroo.

Dabek is a National Geographic grantee and founder of the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program at the Woodland Park Zoo. For almost 20 years she has dedicated her work to studying and preserving these animals, which are endangered by over-hunting and habitat loss. The indigenous people in the area of the Yopno, Uruwa, and Som Rivers (YUS) “hunt tree kangaroos for food—protein—and also for cultural use,” Dabek explains. But they are also playing an important role in revitalizing the species.

“New Guinea is unique in that over 90 percent of the land is owned by the local indigenous people. So we work with the YUS people to create this YUS Conservation Area, which serves as a wildlife bank. And so tree kangaroos are safe in the conservation area, and then the young can disperse into hunting areas.”

Researchers need to understand the animals’ behavior in order to establish an effective conservation area, but tree kangaroos are known as the “ghosts of the forest” for a reason, as they reside 100 feet up in the forest canopy and are incredibly difficult to observe. So Dabek is working with National Geographic’s Crittercam team to attach cameras to the mysterious critters to figure out how they spend their time.

From footage of a tree kangaroo mother cleaning her pouch while her baby joey rests inside, to seeing another eat an orchid species that was never before thought to be a part of the animals’ diet, the Crittercam is revealing far more than Dabek expected. “I think part of what was so exciting was that we were watching it with the National Geographic team, myself, and the Papua New Guinea landowners and research assistants … and it was this moment of all of us getting to see behavior that nobody had ever witnessed before. It was thrilling.”

Find out more about how these discoveries are protecting these charismatic creatures by checking out the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program.

Nora Rappaport is a producer and editor on National Geographic's Science and Exploration Media team. She produces content that highlights the awe-inspiring work of National Geographic explorers around the globe. When not working with her colleagues to inspire people to care about the planet, Nora can be found hanging out with any number of dogs.
  • Awassa Green Wood plc.

    I like very much National Geography. to study the nature.

  • Bracco Barner

    Man dem thing look lyk gud eatins.

  • Chelsey

    So uh…how are they planning to get the camera off of this little guy? Does he just have to wear it forever? I mean, sure, its interesting to have a bird’s eye view of the jungle and to study their behaviors…but I would hate to have something like that around my neck forever. 🙁 I’m watching this on silent so maybe there’s some kind of release mechanism after a certain time, I sure hope so…

  • Lisa Dabek

    I want to respond to Chelsey’s question. Great question. The Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program research team, including a field veterinarian, recapture the tree kangaroo after 4-5 days (the battery life of the camera) to retrieve the National Geographic Crittercam collar. It is a relatively short time with the collar for all new and important information. This was the first time a Nat Geo Crittercam was used on an arboreal (tree-living) animal! Keep the questions coming! And visit our website:

  • Ricky Davidson

    I consider myself generally well informed but I never knew this animal existed! Thank you for your efforts in documenting and preserving this beautiful species. I hope this brand of conservation spreads across the globe; defending endangered species without infringing on the activities of the indigenous people.

  • tyvon

    i dont know what they are talking bout

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