Singapore Zoo guests visiting in August can look forward to witnessing the beginnings of an epic love story between Makaia the miracle tree kangaroo and his betrothed mate Nupela, with the opening of the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo exhibit at the Australasian Zone today. The newly created indoor space will bring guests in close proximity with these fascinating creatures and offer a rare chance to observe how tree kangaroos have adapted to a life above ground.
This species stands among the rarest animals kept under human care, with only approximately 50 animals in zoos around the world. With the recent arrival of Makaia and Nupela, Singapore Zoo is now the proud custodian of four tree kangaroos.
Distinguishable by a pair of golden stripes trailing down the centre of its back, the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo is also known as the ornate tree kangaroo. Each individual’s tail sports a unique pattern of yellow rings and blotches. As its name suggests, tree kangaroos live in trees and have well-developed and muscular forelimbs, which serve them well when navigating their canopy homes in the forests of Papua New Guinea. These master climbers have noticeably broader feet than their land cousins, and padded soles tipped with sharp curved claws that allow for a better grip on tree limbs.
While often somewhat clumsy, these elusive living plush toys have a few tricks of their own for survival in the wild—they have been known to leap up to 15 metres from tree to ground without hurting themselves. In addition, while their ground cousins can only move forwards, tree kangaroos have the ability to walk backwards, which makes it easier for them to traverse their treetop terrain.
The star amongst the four tree kangaroos in Singapore Zoo is no doubt Makaia, dubbed the ‘miracle baby’ by his carers in Australia. Makaia, whose name means magic in a Papua New Guinea dialect, came from Australia’s Adelaide Zoo on 4 July 2016. In a world first for conservation, the Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo made global headlines in November 2014 when he was adopted by a surrogate yellow-footed wallaby at 47 days old, after his mother’s sudden demise. When he outgrew his foster mother’s pouch, a human caregiver took over, and he became the only tree kangaroo to have the distinction of being raised by three mothers!
Nupela hailed from Sydney’s Taronga Zoo, and was a local celebrity in her own right, being the first Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo to be born in the Australian zoo in over 20 years. She arrived in Singapore Zoo on 1 June 2016.
Goodfellow’s tree kangaroo numbers have dwindled drastically in the last century, and in 2012, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) set up a Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) to ensure their survival. Under the GSMP, participating zoos in Australia, Europe, North America, Japan, and Singapore would cooperate to enhance the sustainability of the global population under human care, and also act as an assurance population should there be a catastrophic decline in the wild.
Makaia and Nupela are paired up under the recommendation of the GSMP. Pairing suitable individuals from participating zoos also minimises inbreeding of related animals and enhances the genetic pool of the species under human care.
Last May, a young male that was bred in Singapore Zoo was sent to Yokohama Zoo, Japan, under the recommendation of GSMP.
Dr Cheng Wen-Haur, Deputy Chief Executive Officer and Chief Life Sciences Officer, Wildlife Reserves Singapore, said: “We are very happy to be the proud custodian of Makaia and Nupela, under the Global Species Management Plan for Goodfellow’s tree kangaroos. Such programmes enable zoos from different countries and continents to breed threatened species in a scientific and coordinated manner to achieve demographic and genetic sustainability. Together with conservation efforts in the animals’ natural habitats, these breeding programmes help to ensure the survival of the species.”
Named after Walter Goodfellow, the British zoological collector who discovered them, this species of tree kangaroo is classified as ‘Endangered’ under the IUCN* Red List of Threated Species due to unsustainable hunting and loss of habitat. In the last 50 years, its population has declined by about 50 per cent.