A British holidaymaker has baffled experts by apparently discovering a kangaroo believed extinct for 90 years during an expedition to the remote rainforests of Indonesia.
The Wondiwoi tree kangaroo is on the top 25 ‘most wanted’ lost species and has evaded adventurers and zoologists since its first and only example was found in 1928.
But it has now been photographed for the first time in history by tourist Michael Smith, 47, who was on a two-week expedition to find a new species of orchids in West Papua.
Along with a hired guide, interpreter and four porters, they turned their sights on the elusive creature after spotting claw marks on trees.
Smith, from Farnham, Surrey, was astonished when he spotted the distinctive teddy-bear-like creature on the last 30 minutes of the final day of his trek, silently perched 30m up a canopy tree.
He plans to apply for permits to allow him to bring back poo samples, which experts have already offered to DNA match with the 1928 skeleton currently housed in London’s Natural History Museum.
Smith said: “It was hiding there, peeking down at us.
“I felt relieved. I was starting to think I was going to have to go back home to my long-suffering and much more sensible wife and explain why I had been back to the Wondiwoi mountains and not found anything.
“I was really rushing around. I couldn’t quite get the photo. I was thinking calm down, this is a really, really rare species, it might be the last one.
“I needed to steady my hand and lean on something, but the thing I’m leaning against is covered in spines.
“But I was also thinking ‘I could be coming home with a lot of photos of a lot of leaves’.
“I was thinking to myself I have to be careful here and not fool myself, but I went through my mental check list of their features and realised ’hang on, this has absolutely got to be the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo.
“I felt like Captain Ahab if he had got photos of Moby Dick.”
Zoologist Tim Flannery, who has discovered four of the 15 living species of tree kanagaroo, and authored the definitive book ‘Tree Kangaroos: A Curious Natural History’, said: “This is definitely the Wondiwoi Tree-kangaroo. Everything in the pictures is consistent with the only known specimen.
“It is an extremely significant find. Least known of tree roos and almost most poorly known macropodid. To find it existing in good numbers in 2018 is astonishing.
“I was amazed when I saw the photos.
“I had spoken to Ernst Mayr, the collector of the only previously known specimen, but could get little additional information.
“I believe it has gone unspotted for so long because it’s restricted to a single, small mountain range.”