Dendrolagus – Tree kangaroos

The only true arboreal kangaroos

Unlike their ground-dwelling relatives, tree kangaroos have adapted to life in the treetops, embodying a remarkable shift from terrestrial to arboreal locomotion. This adaptation allows them to inhabit the dense tropical rainforests of New Guinea, parts of northeastern Queensland in Australia, and some islands in the region.

Tree kangaroos differ from their terrestrial cousins in several key anatomical features that enable their arboreal lifestyle. Their limbs are nearly equal in length, a stark contrast to the disproportionately large hind limbs of ground-dwelling kangaroos, which are specialized for hopping at high speeds across open landscapes. The more balanced limb size in tree kangaroos facilitates climbing and maneuvering among the branches. Their tails, while still long, are not as powerful as those of terrestrial kangaroos but are used for balance when moving through the trees.

Their paws are another adaptation to their arboreal existence. They have curved claws and sponge-like grips on their feet and hands, allowing them to grasp branches securely and even make small leaps between trees. Unlike their ground-dwelling counterparts, tree kangaroos can move their hind legs independently, a necessary adaptation for climbing and walking on branches.

Culturally, tree kangaroos hold significant value in the regions they inhabit. In New Guinea, for example, the capture of a tree kangaroo is a feat that bestows honor and greatness upon a man. The fur, teeth, claws, and bones of tree kangaroos are often used as body decorations and status symbols, embedding these animals deeply into the cultural fabric of local communities.

Despite their cultural importance, tree kangaroos face severe threats from hunting and habitat destruction. Deforestation for timber extraction and agricultural expansion has resulted in the loss of significant portions of their natural habitat, while hunting poses a direct threat to their survival. Most species of tree kangaroos are now considered threatened, with some facing the imminent danger of extinction.