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Meet Jamala Wildlife Lodge's tree kangaroo

Say hello to Kubu the tree kangaroo in a special encounter at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium. 

By Max Anderson
Published: 31 October, 2017

You won’t be the first to think the name ‘tree kangaroo’ is some form of Australian practical joke. But seeing is believing at Canberra’s National Zoo and Aquarium, where you’ll meet 15-year-old Kubu.

Kubu will see you now…

Tree kangaroo, Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

Kubu receives visitors at weekends when he’s getting his feed. Book in for the Tree Kangaroo Encounter, and while his keepers distract him with tree kangaroo staples such as fruit, leaves and eggs, you’ll get to gently stroke his coarse, slightly oily fur and get a photo with this most remarkable animal.

It’s an extra special encounter because these animals are usually solitary and shy. “Most people have never heard of a tree kangaroo,” says senior zookeeper Brendan Sheean. “Which is understandable because we don’t know a lot about them – they’re one of the least studied animals on the planet. Fortunately for us, Kubu is the friendliest tree kangaroo you’re ever likely to meet – especially when you’ve got a piece of avocado. He’ll do anything for avocado!”

Visitors also get to see for themselves how tree kangaroos are so closely related to their ground-dwelling ‘macropod’ cousins, the kangaroo and wallaby. Kubu’s enclosure has a number of vertical poles and, after he’s done feeding, he’s likely to embrace a pole with his forearms and use his hind legs to literally ‘hop’ to the top.

Uncertain origins

Tree kangaroo, Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory

The tree kangaroo’s ancestral origins are debated, though scientists believe they evolved from a species of forest-dwelling rock-wallaby which adapted to move up into the relatively empty (and safer) world of treetops.

Today, the rainforests of Tropical North Queensland are home to two species of tree kangaroo, while a further 12 species have been recorded in Papua New Guinea. They’re visually distinct from the ground-dwelling kangaroo, with long claws and a longer, more slender tail, useful for when they make perilous nine-metre ‘downward leaps’ between tree boughs. It’s even thought they breed in the treetops.

“It’s true,” says Sheean, “and that would certainly give them protection from predators like wild dogs. But it’s never been seen in the wild, in fact I’ve only seen our breeding pair mate on the ground.” He adds that unlike the kangaroo, they have a very narrow breeding cycle, with the female having only one joey a year.

A brighter future

Tree kangaroo, Jamala Wildlife Lodge, Australian Capital Territory

Established in 1998, National Zoo and Aquarium has become well known for its close-up animal encounters, shooting to fame in 2014 when it opened Jamala Wildlife Lodge. This is where you can sleep just metres from some of the world’s most exotic animals while being surrounded by five-star luxury.

The concept sees accommodation spaces separated from resident animals by nothing more than (very thick!) panes of glass. So you can dine alongside lions, take a bath while watching the antics of a Malayan sun bear or wake to share a balcony breakfast with a visiting giraffe. One bedroom even shares a wall with the aquarium – so instead of counting sheep, you can count sharks.

“The money we raise goes back into the zoo,” says Brendan Sheean, “so we’ve been able to build better enclosures and be more involved in conservation projects. In fact, most recently we were able to donate $10,000 to a tree kangaroo conservation project in Papua New Guinea.”

If you think Kubu is cute, wait till you see this koala joey!