The SPOTTED CUSCUS – listed as “Vulnerable” Posted on 23 Jun 00:00

Written by: Tzar the Paddington Poodle.

 Guss the Cuscus, features in my book “The Adventures of Tzar the Paddington Poodle, Goanna Encounter”.  In the story, he had been forced move his family from the rainforest to the safety of the rafters of the Port Douglas Animal refuge after a devastating cyclone tore apart his favourite tree. 

Over the past 10 years we must have done at least 20 + trips to Far North Queensland Australia and I was quite despondent to have not come across these cute little creatures.  It was in the summer of 2010 when my luck changed. We had been holidaying in Port Douglas Australia, and decided to extend our trip and head up north to the tiny village of Cooktown.  A flash flood warning had been sent out, but we were not to be deterred, so we hopped in the car and off we went. On our way back from Cooktown the clouds burst open and down came the rain. So we were not surprised to find ourselves trapped on the northern side of the McCloud river crossing.  There was a convoy of travellers trapped along with us so we hung around for a while and watched as the river levels rose, is seemed to be the thing to do.  We chatted to a father and son who were sauntering around the country side and we hit it off immediately. After a while we realised that there would be no crossing taking place until the next day. There was nothing for us or our new friends to do save find a dry spot to bed down for the night so we set up camp under the canopy of a gigantic fig tree and lit a fire to keep ourselves dry. We pooled our resources and whipped ourselves up a great meal.  The Mum and the son Andrew scrounged around and were able rustle up the ingredients to make a mean cosmopolitan which was christened later that night as the “McCloud river Cosmo”. 

As I lay next to the fire gnawing on a big T bone, I had the distinct feeling that we were being watched. The feeling niggled at me so I left my bone and moved away from the light of the fire and peered into the darkness. I thought that some ground dwelling animal may have been stalking us, but I couldn’t see any eyes glowing back at me. Just as I was about to head back to my juicy bone, I looked up to the branches overhead, and to my utter surprise there hanging by its tail was the elusive Cuscus.  There was a handsome male with tan coloured fur and big creamy patches all over it body, and a beautiful little pure white female dangling from one of the low lying branches.

As you can imagine, I was chuffed to have finally had the opportunity meet these cute little creatures in the wild.  

Conservation Status of the Common Spotted Cuscus:

  • The spotted cuscus is rarely seen in Australia because it is a very sky creature.
  • It was introduced to a number of islands and has since flourished.
  • As of today, it is listed as least concern. However, continued human expansion, an increase in demand for cuscus meat and pelts, and the destruction of its natural habitat could lead to the demise in the spotted cuscus predominance.
  • Cuscus are potentially vulnerable to a loss of habitat resulting from changes in fire regimes, particularly an increased incidence of late dry season fires which can damage the edges of rainforest patches.
  • Australian Wildlife Conservancy implements a prescribed burning program to protect the edges of rainforests and riparian gallery forest.

Here are a few facts about these cute but rarely seen creatures:

  • Common Spotted Cuscus is a type of large of possum that resembles a monkey in appearance.
  • They can be found in rainforests and adjacent forests on Cape York Peninsula north of Coen, including the Iron and McIlwraith Ranges.
  • The common Spotted Cuscus also occurs in New Guinea.
  • They are about the size of a house cat approximately 35 – 45 cm (body) and weighing about 1.5 – 6 kg.
  • Their tail is described as Prehensile (having rough rasp like scales on the inside surface to grip branches) and is approximately 30 – 40 cm long.
  • Their tail along with their “two-thumbed” hands allows the Cuscus to cling to branches and move through the rainforest canopy.
  • It has a round, bare-skinned face; large, forward-looking eyes; small hidden ears, pink-orange snout.
  • It has a prehensile tail to aid in climbing.
  • Its coat is thick and woolly and varies in colour. , hands and tail, and a coat that is either grey (females) or spotted grey-white or brown –white (males), some are just white.
  • They are generalist herbivores, consuming the foliage and fruits of a variety of rainforest trees and vines.
  • They also inhabit Nipa palms, freshwater and saline mangroves, large paperbarks and other tree species growing in riparian gallery forests.
  • Cuscuses are nocturnal and nest in hollow trees and clumps of vegetation at night time.
  • All the members of the Cuscus family have five toes on each foot. Four of these toes have large claws; the innermost toe is opposable and has no claw. 

Classification

  • Kingdom:    Animalia
  • Phylum:      Chordata
  • Class:         Mammalia
  • Subclass:   Marsupialia
  • Order:         Diprotodontia
  • Family:        Phalangeridae
  • Genus:       Spilocuscus
  • Species:     S. maculatus

 References

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Common_spotted_cuscus

http://www.australianwildlife.org/wildlife/common-spotted-cuscus.aspx