Admiralty Cuscus

The Admiralty cuscus (Spilocuscus kraemeri) is nocturnal cat-sized marsupial found on the heavily forested tropical island of Manus and its neighbouring islands. This furry creature is a little odd-looking with large cat-like eyes and very small ears. It is well adapted to life in the trees with a prehensile tail, long claws, and mitt-like hands and feet. The species is rather unusual in that the males and females have very different pelts – males are largely white with brown and black splodges (not unlike a soccer ball) while females have an even tan to black pelt, white under-belly and an obvious pouch on their abdomen. This cuscus is an important game species for the people of the Manus Island as they have little access to livestock and rely on it as a major source of protein in their diet.

Archaeological evidence suggests these creatures have been a part of the diet of Manus Islanders for at least 11,000 years. But as a consequence of unmanaged hunting the animal has been gradually disappearing from many village areas. Since 2010 the WCS PNG program has been undertaking conservation research to understand this previously unstudied species and the traditional tambu management systems (which operate in a manner similar to hunting blocks) which were once used to manage harvesting. As a result of this research WCS PNG has revealed that the species has small home ranges, and potentially high population growth rates. As a consequence the species has the potential to be sustainably managed within the harvest cycles of the traditional tambu management system. However, it also appears that the effectiveness of the traditional management system is dependent on forest connectivity, and that should connectivity be broken then the system will likely become unsustainable. A second issue is that many villages are no longer using any form of hunting management at all ―and as a consequence the hunting of cuscus is entirely unregulated. In response to these threats WCS PNG has been both focusing on working with local clans to protect areas of forest at risk from clear felling by commercial logging operations, and advocating a return to the traditional tambu management system.

 

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