Going out on a limb for tree roo

Ian Warden -Apr 13, 2012

Oumak, the two-year-old Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, looks good enough to eat. But that, alas, is her species' problem.

She is to be an essential part (for it takes two Goodfellow's tree kangaroos to tango) of a captive conservation program at the National Zoo and Aquarium, made necessary by the way her species has been so successfully hunted for food.

She is a recent acquisition for the National Zoo from Melbourne Zoo and has just gone on show after quite some days of being kept out of the limelight to allow her to get over the stresses of being flown here and of adjusting to her enclosure and to all the other challenges in Canberra for a species from Papua New Guinea and Australia's far north. Next door to her enclosure yesterday, work was going on to prepare the enclosure that will house the male Goodfellow's tree kangaroo, which will arrive later this year. Meanwhile he is living, oblivious to what's planned for him, at the Currumbin Sanctuary near Brisbane.

''That's good, she's going to show off for you all now,'' senior wildlife keeper Bec Scott rejoiced yesterday as Oumak emerged from the shadows and started to amble and clamber about. Words cannot capture how very lovely Oumak is. Her fur is a beautiful rufous red (a little like our Prime Minister's hair, but not so brazen) and a sumptuous cream. And when she's still, she looks like the most perfect soft toy. Her prehensile tail (that's a tail so dextrous it's used as another limb while climbing) is startlingly long, and unlike orthodox kangaroos, she and all members of her species have fore legs and hind legs that are a very similar size.

Aesthetically, Oumak looks perfect but, of course, and for the sake of the hoped-for boy-meets-girl breeding encounter, everyone hopes the male will take more than an aesthetic interest in her.

Scott mused yesterday that ''in the past it has been quite difficult to breed tree roos in captivity''.

But she says that once the two have been ensconced side by side together (with luck exchanging what Shakespeare called ''fair speechless messages'' with one another) and been able to get used to the sight of one another, it will be time to collect all the wisdom there is about what to do.

''We're new to doing this, but when we start to get into the breeding side of things, we'll have to go into all the pros and cons of what does and doesn't work, food set-ups, care, it's all about tweaking and modifying to see what works for these particular animals.''

And even if the two tree kangaroos never become conjugally entwined, ''it's still a great animal to have on display even if they don't breed''.

But Scott says that it's been the zoo's experience that most breeding pairs of most species do become attracted to one another, although there has been one notable exception.

''Cheetahs are notoriously fussy. The females are particularly picky.''

''Discerning'' this columnist, a feminist, corrected her.

''Yes, discerning. They're notoriously difficult to breed … we did have a female come in at one point but, no, she didn't like him [the male she was introduced to] and she let him know it. He was very interested. But she wasn't.''

This much-rejected human male columnist's heart went out to my brother, the rejected male cheetah.

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