The elusive cuscus is among the many unique animals found in Australia.
Photo: Aviceda/Public Domain.
Related to possums, the cuscus is an arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammal native to the northern forests of Australia,Papua New Guinea and nearby islands. It was first thought to be a type of monkey because of its appearance and behaviour.
It has a long and strong tail that it uses to grip and swing from branch to branch in the tree canopies. There are 23 species of cuscus. Depending upon where it is found and the type of species it is, its thick fur could be brown, grey, with white patches or reddish brown limbs. It has a rounded head with small ears, and large, round eyes which can be orange, red or yellow. The tail is bare (without any fur), which helps it to grip onto the tree branches more easily.
It is the largest of the possum species and grows up to be 45 cm. including its tail length. The cuscus has large, powerful claws on four toes of the five on each foot. It spends most of its life in the tree canopy – sleeping, eating, resting among the branches, feeding on leaves and fruits, and occasionally on small birds and reptiles. It is nocturnal which means that it is more active at night.
Being a marsupial, the female cuscus has a pouch on her tummy to carry her young one until it is ready to crawl out and start feeding by itself. The young marsupial stays with the mother for the first six to seven months of its life.
Raptors* and pythons are its main predators. This shy, elusive animal is threatened by some humans who hunt it for its meat and fur. Its habitat is also being lost on account of logging of trees.
Source: First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXVI, NO. 5, May 2016.