Trying to Find a Tree Kangaroo: The Tree Kangaroo

I have a strange habit of trying to find rare mammals in the wild whenever I’m in a country that supports them. From the time I was a kid I’ve seen it as a bragging right and badge of honor. When I was eleven years old I was on a safari in Zambia with my mom and sister, and remember crying because with only one night left I still hadn’t seen an aardvark, which was listed as the rarest animal to see in the area. Luckily the next night we spotted one on a night drive. My high expectations were met, and it was one of the most satisfying moments of my life.

(Photo Courtesy Peter Greenberg)

(Photo Courtesy Peter Greenberg)

Twelve years later my rare mammal fixation is as strong as ever. In Papua New Guinea, my focus was the tree kangaroo. I’m not sure how much I really need to write to convey how ridiculously awesome a tree kangaroo is. First off, it’s a kangaroo that lives in a tree. They are thought to have evolved from kangaroos and wallabies from the Australian continent, with their main physical differences being exceptionally long tails, stronger forelimbs, and longer claws – all developed for mobility while in trees. Tree kangaroos are very rare, and seven of the nine existing species are live only in Papua New Guinea. So, if you’re looking for tree kangaroos, Papua New Guinea happens to be the place to go.treekang33

There’s also some great mythology surrounding the tree kangaroo in Papua New Guinea. Hunters believe that you have to be extremely accurate when throwing a spear at a tree kangaroo for two reasons. First, if you hit it and don’t kill it, they say the tree kangaroo will grab the spear, pull it out of itself, and throw it back at you with more force and accuracy than your throw at it. Second, it is considered bad luck if you miss the tree kangaroo. Papua New Guineans take their bad luck very seriously, as bad luck is pretty synonymous with death.

If you take a look at the tree kangaroo, it’s pretty funny to imagine this donkey-faced monkey dog hurling a spear at you with deadly precision. Still, regardless of whether the little guy can actually mow people down, the tree kangaroo has to be one of the coolest mammals out there. The look, the rarity, the mythology – it’s really like the five-tool player of the animal world.


After completing the PANANGO program in the Lowlands, I went to the local university in Madang to meet up with some friends from the Highlands I had made while there. Telling them of my desire to see a tree kangaroo, they arranged for me to go up with one of their friends. There wasn’t too much planning involved. I was introduced to Danny, who was about about my age, from a village in the Western Highlands, and in true Highlands fashion, was about 5’7 and built like a heavyweight wrestler. Danny happily agreed to take me to his village and help me find a tree kangaroo. The trip was on.

1 Response to “Trying to Find a Tree Kangaroo: The Tree Kangaroo”

  1. 1 Lydia L. Pineault December 16, 2009 at 2:07 pm

    Nightline did a story on these guys last night 12.14.2009 very interesting creatures. Only seem to be found in New Guinea.

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Gulliver helps students Study Abroad. Our blog covers: current issues in Study Abroad; featured posts by Study Abroad students; and Gulliver updates, news, and behind-the-scenes peaks. Thanks for reading!

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