Meet Chimbu, the blue-eyed, bear-eared tree kangaroo. Your cuppa can help save his species



Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Marissa Parrott, University of Melbourne

Tree kangaroos are so unusual that when Europeans first encountered them in Australia in 1872, they were sceptical. Who would believe a kangaroo could climb a tree?

But the recent birth of Chimbu – a Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo at Healesville Sanctuary – gives us the chance to watch one of these unique, and very rare, creatures grow up.




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The Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is a threatened species found in forests in the Central Cordillera mountain ranges of Papua New Guinea, from sea level to high in the clouds.

Chimbu’s birth in September is the latest success of a complex web of international conservation. Zoos and other organisations around the world transfer and match tree-kangaroos to avoid inbreeding and sustain a genetically healthy captive population.

Chimbu is named after an area in Papua New Guinea where his wild cousins live.

A climbing kangaroo? That’s roo-diculous!

Europeans in New Guinea first described tree kangaroos in 1828. While there have been plenty of disagreements about who is related to whom, we now know there are 14 distinct species.

Early explorers considered the very idea of a climbing roo ridiculous, but these animals are specially adapted to life in the trees. They likely all evolved from a terrestrial ancestor earlier in the Pliocene, 5.3 million to 2.5 million years ago.

Tree kangaroos look like marsupial bears, but can climb trees like monkeys.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Tree kangaroos have much longer forelimbs than their ground-dwelling cousins and their claws are much larger and strongly curved. This provides much stronger grip when climbing trees and gripping smaller branches.

They still have large strong hind limbs, but their feet are shorter, broader and have a long curved claw on each toe.

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The pad of the hindfoot is single, large and with prominent grooves, all of which enhance the animal’s grip when climbing and walking in the canopy. The tails of tree kangaroos aren’t capable of grasping things like a monkey’s, but they’re long and often held out behind the animal for balance.

But perhaps one of the most obvious differences between tree kangaroos and their terrestrial cousins is their adorably small bear-like ears.

Threatened with extinction

Two species of tree kangaroos are found in the forests of northeast Australia and 12 species in the jungles of New Guinea. All species of tree kangaroos are threatened with extinction in New Guinea, although much about these animals is unknown.

The current population size is unknown, but this species of tree kangaroo is thought to be declining in the wild.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Traditionally hunted for food, hassled by dogs and threatened by the destruction of their forest habitat, the soft thud of tree roo feet among the trees is falling silent.

But conservation work in their natural habitat and through a globally managed tree kangaroo captive breeding program is helping not only the species, but the people who live alongside them.

Baby Chimbu – a new hope

Chimbu was born in Victoria, but is really an international fellow. His mother Mani came from the National Zoo and Aquarium in Canberra, and his father Bagam arriving from Kreffeld Zoo in Germany.

Baby Chimbu brings hope to a species nearing extinction.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Mani and Bagam were paired based on the recommendation of scientists and managers who maintain a studbook of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos around the world.

These gorgeous animals are generally chocolate brown on the back, shading to pale brown or cream on the face and belly, and often with a single or double narrow pale stripe down the back.




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Their beautiful striped tails are one of their most noticeable features. And while the current population size is unknown, this tree kangaroo is thought to be declining due to hunting for food, local trading for cultural purposes, and habitat destruction through local deforestation and shifting cultivation.

Managing tree kangaroos around the globe

The captive population of Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos in our region is coordinated by the Australasian Zoos and Aquarium Association.

The plan is to maintain long-term healthy populations that are genetically diverse, stable and show natural behaviours to ensure the animals are thriving in their zoo homes.

Chimbu ventured out of his mum’s pouch to sample some tasty salad.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

In turn, the regional program is part of a global species management plan coordinated by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

A key feature of these regional/global management programs is to avoid any inbreeding. Detailed histories of all animals in the population are closely managed, and suitable breeding pairs are identified by specialist zoo keepers called “Studbook Keepers”.

This is why Chimbu was born from a long-distance romance and travel by his parents.

Your cuppa can help

Supporting wildlife conservation in the wild and with local communities is the driving force for zoos globally.

An international network of captive tree kangaroos helps conserve this species.
Healesville Sanctuary, Author provided

Although the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos are officially endangered, we don’t know much about them in the wild. Right now, the Wildlife Conservation Society is working out how many are in the wild and where, so scientists can develop a detailed conservation program.

Cousins of the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo, such as the Matschie’s tree kangaroo, are more well-known and already have conservation programs in place.




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To help save Matschie’s tree kangaroo, community programs have emerged to address the economic conditions fuelling their over-hunting. Zoos Victoria has partnered with the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program to sell coffee grown by Papua New Guinean villagers. This helps create sustainable alternative income and fund conservation.

Collecting coffee beans for YUS conservation coffee in Papua New Guinea.
Ryan Hawke/Tree Kangaroo Conservation Program, Author provided

Income from coffee sales generates much greater access to healthcare and education, major hurdles in these remote villages. Money from sale of the coffee beans is the only regular income into these villages.

So if you do decide to visit Chimbu at the Healesville Sanctuary (in person or virtually) remember you can also buy some coffee to help his wild cousins.


This article is co-authored by Chris Banks, Manager International Conservation, Zoos Victoria, who has worked with tree kangaroo and community conservation for over 20 yearsThe Conversation

Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Kangaroos (and other herbivores) are eating away at national parks across Australia



Grazing from kangaroos affects vulnerable native species.
Tom Hunt, Author provided

Patrick O’Connor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, University of Adelaide

Protected land, including national parks, are a cornerstone of conservation. Once an area is legally protected, it is tempting to assume that it is shielded from further degradation.

However, our research, published in the journal Global Ecology and Conservation, has found Australia’s national parks are under serious threat of overgrazing. Significantly, native kangaroos are major contributors to the problem.

In some places we looked at, the effect of overgrazing in protected areas was just as pronounced as on private land with no legal protection at all.

In the public debate over culling and otherwise managing kangaroo populations, attention is typically divided between their economic impact on people versus welfare concerns. But there’s a third unwilling participant in this dilemma: the thousands of other native species affected when native grazer populations grow out of control.

Native birds like the diamond firetail are threatened when abundant grazing animals eat the plants the birds depend on.
Tom Hunt

Protected from what?

National parks and other protected areas can be safeguarded in a variety of legal ways. Activities such as grazing of domestic stock, building, cropping and some recreational activities (hunting, fishing, dogs) are usually restricted in protected areas. However, previous research has found protected areas continue to face intense pressure from agriculture, urbanisation, mining, road construction, and climate change.

Less conspicuously, the loss of predators from many Australian ecosystems has let herbivore populations grow wildly. Overgrazing, or grazing that leads to changes in habitat, is now a key threat to biodiversity.

Overgrazing by herbivores affects native species such as the diamond firetail, which is declining in southeastern Australia due to loss of habitat and the replacement of native grasses with exotic species after overgrazing and fire. Overgrazing has also been shown to reduce the abundance and diversity of ground-dwelling reptiles.

In the face of a global extinction crisis, we need good evidence that national parks and reserves are serving their purpose.




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To determine whether protected areas are being overgrazed, we assessed grazing impact on native vegetation at 1,192 sites across the entire agricultural region of South Australia. We looked at more than 600 plant species in woodlands, forests, shrublands, and grasslands.

The data were collected by monitoring programs, some of which included citizen scientists, aimed at tracking change in the condition of native vegetation.

Researchers looked at hundreds of sites across Southern Australia to check how grazing animals were affecting the environment.
Tom Hunt

We found that grazing pressure was already high on unprotected land when we began monitoring around 2005, and grazing impact has grown since then. On protected land, three things are happening as a consequence of inadequate management of grazing by native and introduced animals:

  1. grazing impact in protected areas has substantially increased,

  2. protected areas in some regions now show equally severe effects from grazing as seen on private land without any conservation protections, and

  3. the character of our landscapes, including national parks, is set to change as the next generation of edible seedlings is lost from protected and unprotected ecosystems.

The increased severity of grazing in protected areas paints a dire picture. This threat adds to the rising pressure on protected areas for recreational access (and other uses).

The grass is not greener

It’s well accepted that introduced species such as deer, goats, horses, camels and rabbits badly affect Australia’s native vegetation. There are a variety of control measures to keep their populations in check, including culls and strong incentives for control on farmland. Control of feral animals is normally less contentious than control of endemic species like kangaroos, because we feel a custodial responsibility for native species.

But the numbers of native kangaroos and wallabies has also increased dramatically since 2011 as populations across Australia responded to an increase in feed at the end of the Millennium drought and reduced culling in settled areas due to changes in regulation and growing opposition to culls on animal welfare grounds.




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Managing kangaroo populations, on the other hand, is a polarising issue. Arguments about culling kangaroos can be bitter and personal, and create perceptions of an urban-rural divide.

However, a few species – even if they are native – should not be allowed to compromise the existence of other native plants and animals, especially not where we have dedicated the land to holistic protection of biodiversity.

Extinction rates in Australia are extremely high, especially among plants. Research has also found conservation funding is disproportionately aimed at individual species rather than crucial ecosystems. We must address our reluctance to manage threats to biodiversity at the scale on which they operate.

Protected areas must be managed to meet clear biodiversity targets and control overgrazing, including from native species.




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Welfare concerns for conspicuous native species need to be weighed against the concern for the many other less obvious native plant and animal species. If our national parks and reserves are not managed properly, they will fail to meet the conservation need for which they were established.The Conversation

Patrick O’Connor, Associate Professor, University of Adelaide; Stuart Collard, Research Fellow, The Centre for Global Food and Resources, University of Adelaide, and Thomas Prowse, Postdoctoral research fellow, School of Mathematical Sciences, University of Adelaide

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Yes, kangaroos are endangered – but not the species you think


Karl Vernes, University of New England

Do you know what kind of animal the mala, nabarlek, or boodie is? What about the monjon, northern bettong, or Gilbert’s potoroo?

If you answered that they are different species of kangaroo – the collective term for more than 50 species of Australian hopping marsupials – you’d be right. But you’d be in the minority.

Include nearby New Guinea, and the number of kangaroo species jumps to more than 70. Kangaroos are so diverse that they have been dubbed Australia’s most successful evolutionary product.

But sadly, not everyone is aware of this great diversity, so most kangaroo species remain obscure and unknown.




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This is brought into sharp relief by a new movie that premieres nationally this week called Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story. The filmmakers set out to expose the kangaroo industry, painting a picture of gruesome animal cruelty, an industry cloaked in secrecy, and the wholesale slaughter of an Australian icon.

The film, which includes brutal footage, also includes the claim that Australia’s kangaroos may be heading down the path of extinction.

The film has already screened in the United States and Europe to sold-out premieres, opening first in those places because they are important markets for kangaroo products.

But foreign audiences also probably know less about Australia’s major kangaroo species or the complexities of the kangaroo industry, and may perhaps be more easily swayed towards the filmmakers’ point of view.

Many US reviews have been positive about the film, although one review described it as “frustratingly one-sided”.

Most Australians, whatever their view on the kangaroo industry, would surely agree that if kangaroos are to be harvested, it should be done with minimal suffering. But are Australia’s kangaroos really at risk of extinction?

The iconic red kangaroo. Large kangaroos are typically widespread and secure, unlike many of their smaller cousins.
Karl Vernes

On mainland Australia, four species are sustainably harvested, largely for their meat or fur: the eastern grey, western grey, common wallaroo, and Australia’s most famous icon (and largest marsupial), the red kangaroo.

The best scientific survey data, based on millions of square kilometres surveyed by aircraft each year, puts the combined number of these four kangaroo species currently at around 46 million animals.

This is a conservative estimate, because only the rangelands where kangaroos are subject to government-sanctioned harvest are surveyed. There is almost as much kangaroo habitat again that is not surveyed.

Of the estimated population, a quota of roughly 15% is set for the following year, of which barely a quarter is usually filled. Quotas are set and enforced by state governments, with the aim of sustaining population numbers.

For example, of 47 million animals estimated in 2016, a quota of 7.8 million animals was set for the following year, but only 1.4 million of these animals (3.1% of the estimated population) were harvested.

The wildlife management community is pretty much unanimous that the four harvested species are widespread and abundant, and at no risk of extinction.

Are non-harvested species at risk?

But what of the other forgotten 95% of kangaroo species? The conservation prognosis for these – especially the smaller ones under about 5.5kg in weight – is far less rosy.

The nabarlek – a small endangered rock wallaby from Australia’s northwest – has become so rare that its mainland population in the Kimberley seems to have disappeared. It is now only found on a few islands off the coast.

The boodie – a small burrowing species of bettong – was one of Australia’s most widespread mammals at the time of European arrival, but is extinct on the mainland and now found on just a few islands.

Gilbert’s potoroo holds the title of Australia’s most endangered mammal, clinging precariously to existence in the heathlands around Albany on Western Australia’s south coast. One intense wildfire could wipe out the species in the wild.

Meanwhile, if the alarming increasing impact of cats on our northern Australian wildlife continues, recent modelling suggests that the northern bettong – a diminutive kangaroo that weighs barely a kilogram – will disappear.




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The list goes on: mala, bridled nail-tail wallaby, parma wallaby, woylie, banded hare-wallaby, long-footed potoroo, Proserpine rock-wallaby – all of these and more could slip to extinction right under our noses.

The culprits are the usual suspects: cats, foxes, land-use change – and our collective apathy and ignorance. Australia holds the title for the worst record of mammal extinctions in modern times, and kangaroos, unfortunately, contribute many species to that list.

Population modelling paints a grim picture for the northern bettong.
Karl Vernes, Author provided

The theatrical trailer for Kangaroo: A Love-Hate Story’ features a voiceover from a concerned kangaroo activist, who says:

If Australians really knew what happens out there in the dark, they would be horrified.

Indeed they might. But it’s not just the treatment of the abundant big four kangaroos that are harvested (yet secure) that should attract attention.

The ConversationIf we also look at the other 95% of kangaroo species that need our urgent attention, we might just be able to do something about their dwindling numbers – and the real kangaroo extinction crisis – before it’s too late.

Karl Vernes, Associate Professor, School of Environmental & Rural Science, University of New England

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Potoroos settling in at Booderee


Parks Australia

At the end of October last year we transferred 27 long-nosed potoroos to suitable habitat in Booderee National Park after they had been extinct in the area for many years. Since the translocation we’ve been monitoring the population closely, using camera and cage traps to determine their survival.

The potoroos have had us guessing the last couple of weeks. We didn’t see any potoroos for about three weeks, but we did see a red fox.

Small mammals are very vulnerable to predators such as foxes so we run a comprehensive – and very successful –  fox control program using bait. This has reduced foxes to very low numbers, but at this time of year we see a number of young foxes moving into the park. Last week we buried the fox bait at the camera site where the fox was spotted.

That same day we saw a small potoroo at the…

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Australia: Global Warming and the Musky Rat-Kangaroo


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the impact of climate change on the Musky Rat-Kangaroo.

For more visit:
http://mashable.com/2014/05/12/global-warming-musky-rat-kangaroo/