Monday, May 07, 2007

Animal of the Week -- May 7, 2007

Although Andrew Motion was quaking in his boots when he first saw last week's effort, he was quickly relieved when he spotted my egregious error in suggesting that the people conned in the poodle scam had been given back their mediaeval instrument rather than their "loot". I would like to say that I spotted the error myself, but if I told you that I would be a lyre.

Crashing on, this week's animal of the week is Dendrolagus mbaiso (dingiso, bondegezou). This cute little bundle of loveliness is a tree kangaroo from the Western New Guinea region of Indonesia. I always found it bizarre that a kangaroo should climb a tree, but dingisos are doubly weird as their ancestors came back down from the trees and they are largely terrestrial, spending little if any time in trees. Such evolutionary wrong-headedness would typically make the kangaroos an easy target for human hunters. Fortunately, the local Moni people regard dingisos as ancestors and do not hunt them, even though the kangaroos can be coaxed from a tree with a handful of succulent leaves and a noose easily slipped around their neck. When they encounter human beings, dingisos wave their arms in the air and whistle like pie-eyed new-rave devotees in New Cross, and the Moni view this as a greeting from their ancestors. Sounds like a partnership made in heaven for the Moni and the dingisos.

Evolving in a land without other mammals, tree kangaroos fill the niches generally taken by monkeys. And their commitment to this must be viewed with some respect. Fitting huge hind legs developed for bounding across open plains up a tree is not easy. Dingisos have, however, readapted to life on the ground, whereas other tree kangaroos have shorter hind legs and very long tails, the reverse is true of these lovely black and white fellows. Their striking pied fur is very dense, an adaptation to their life at high altitudes where the temperature can drop to below zero most nights. I salute these weird critters: the black and white, new rave, ground-tree kangaroos.

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