She’s the former zookeeper from Germany’s Stuttgart Zoo, they are one of Queensland’s most elusive creatures, together Margit Cianelli and her tree kangaroos share an extraordinary bond that has to be seen to be believed.
Visit Margit’s house Lumholtz Lodge at Atherton in Far North Queensland, and you not only get to see a tree kangaroo, but even have the chance to share a coffee with one in her kitchen.
Margit’s marsupials also have the run of the house – so guests staying in her B&B need to be prepared to share the sofa with a tree kangaroo – or even the dinner table (Margit says one of her charges jumped up onto the dinner table and into the dessert platter one night – to her distress but the hilarity of guests)
Kimberley the tree kangaroo is a young female who was abandoned as a joey, Margit has become her mother and will spend up to three years teaching her how to climb trees and select the right leaves to eat.
The former zookeeper says being one of only a handful of people in Queensland helping to care for injured or abandoned tree kangaroos like Kimberley is a privilege and joy every single day.
“I’ve been here 42 years and I envy myself sometimes it’s just so special to be working with tree kangaroos,” says Margit.
Back to that coffee and yes Kimberley drinks out of a mug but it’s only a very weak brew of just a couple of drops of coffee in water. “I really like Kimberley to drink because it’s been very hot and dry and the toxins in the leaves that they eat are very concentrated and she doesn’t like plain water so it’s just got to be a tiny bit of very weak coffee,” says Margit.
Tree kangaroos are cousins of the kangaroos most people know and love, except as their name suggests they spend most of their lives in the trees of Far North Queensland’s rainforests and are much smaller in size. There are 10 known species of tree kangaroo, with the Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo and Bennett’s tree kangaroo found only in Queensland.
Kimberley is a Lumholtz’s tree kangaroo, she’s blackish brown in colour and is nocturnal, spending her days asleep high up in the branches and hence her relatives are rarely seen. Tree kangaroos have the extraordinary ability to jump to another tree or jump to the ground from a height of up to 15 metres (49 feet).
Tree kangaroos are the only kangaroos that can also walk – albeit with a rather ungainly gait – unlike their land-dwelling cousins who can only hop forwards.
Says Margit: “Tree kangaroos are strong physical animals they are just so different to anything else that exists in our forests here but they so much belong.”
Her ‘babies’ are released into Margit’s idyllic 140-acre rainforest backyard when they’re ready and Kimberley will be no exception. “Kimberley is a particularly amazing animal because she was very hyperactive when I first got her as a matter of fact I think that’s why her mother abandoned her. They are strong physical animals anyway but with her you usually had to check where the off button was!”
As Margit walks about her house and yard with Kimberley happily perched on her shoulder it’s obvious their bond is strong. As a joey Kimberley spent most of her life down the front of Margit’s shirt in her ‘pouch’ so their goodbye will be a bittersweet one.
“In a way for an animal to go and have its own life of course it’s a bit of a loss but it will also be very satisfactory because it’ll just be so nice to know that she’s able that she maybe has her own joeys one day and it gives me a lot of joy to have been a part of that process,” says Margit.
It’s estimated 20,000 Lumholtz’s tree kangaroos survive in the wild in Tropical North Queensland.