Singapore Zoo to welcome 'miracle' Aussie tree kangaroo: 6 things to know about the species

Makaia, a Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, was adopted by a wallaby after his mother, Kia, died when he was seven weeks old.
Makaia, a Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, was adopted by a wallaby after his mother, Kia, died when he was seven weeks old. PHOTO: ADELAIDE ZOO

SINGAPORE - A Goodfellow's tree kangaroo will call the Singapore Zoo home from next week, as Makaia, the "miracle" joey, moves over from Adelaide.

While they share the same name, tree kangaroos are a distant relative of the kangaroo and wallaby and have several distinct characteristics.

Dense tropical forests from sea level to nearly 10,000ft in altitude are where you would usually find tree kangaroos. They primarily live in trees or closed forest areas over mountainous ranges.

Here are six interesting facts about Makaia and tree kangaroos.

1. Not your typical kangaroo

Tree kangaroos are quite different in appearance from terrestrial kangaroos.


Unlike its land-dwelling cousins, its legs are not disproportionately large compared to its forelimbs, which are strong and end in hooked claws for grasping tree limbs.

A long tail helps with its balance. These features mean it rarely descends to the ground.

Goodfellow's tree kangaroos have short fur that is usually woolly and is coloured chestnut brown or red-brown to crimson, with a grey-brown face and yellow cheeks and feet.

A tree kangaroo on average has a body length of between 55cm and 77cm and weighs approximately 7kg. Its average lifespan in captivity is 24 years.

2. Dwindling population

Tree kangaroos have suffered from loss of habitat and severe reductions in their range.

According to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo is critically endangered and quite possibly extinct, with as few as 50 remaining.

Similarly, the critically endangered dingiso is said to have suffered a population decline in excess of 80 per cent over the last 30 years.

3. Healthy diet

Living in the trees, the tree kangaroo eats mostly leaves and fruit, although they will also collect fruit that has fallen to the ground.

They are also known to eat grains, flowers, sap, eggs, young birds, and even bark.

A tree kangaroo's large stomach functions as a fermentation vat, similar to the stomachs of cows and other ruminant herbivores, where bacteria break down fibrous leaves and grasses.

4. High jumpers

A Goodfellow's tree kangaroo is slow and clumsy on the ground, moving at walking pace and hopping awkwardly as it leans its body far forward to balance a heavy tail.

In trees, however, it is bold and agile. It climbs by wrapping its forelimbs around the trunk of a tree and hopping with the powerful hind legs, allowing the forelimbs to slide.

It has extraordinary jumping ability, known to jump safely to the ground from heights of about 9m.

5. Primary threats

The major threats facing tree kangaroos are hunting and habitat loss.

Tree kangaroos have been hunted for food by indigenous communities across their range. For a number of species, this factor alone has contributed to a sharp decline in population numbers, WWF said.

Habitat loss for logging and timber production as well as degradation means that many species now inhabit a restricted range, exposing them to predators such as domestic dogs.

6. Makaia's Story

Makaia's impending move to Singapore coincides with the launch of a children's book, Makaia's Story, which chronicles his fascinating life thus far.

The photo storybook tells of the three "mothers" who looked after Makaia and is written by Adelaide Zoo natives team leader Gayl Males, who has been with Makaia every step of the way.

Sources: WWF Global, Animal Diversity Web