Black-spotted cuscus
(Spilocuscus rufoniger)

The black-spotted cuscus is a nocturnal marsupial known only from northern parts of the island of New Guinea. It is thought to have been driven to the brink of extinction by increasing human pressure on its forest habitat. One of the largest species of cuscus, this species is targeted by hunters throughout its range. This hunting pressure, together with large-scale habitat conversion for agriculture and settlements throughout its range has drastically reduced numbers, and wiped out the species from many parts of its former range.

Urgent Conservation Actions
Further research into the species’ numbers, distribution, ecology, threats; protection of important populations; increased public awareness and greater enforcement of hunting restrictions.
Endemic to the island of New Guinea.
Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Diprotodontia
Family: Phalangeridae
The family Phalangeridae comprises the brushtail possums (Trichosurus), scaly-tailed possum (Wyulda) and cuscuses (Phalanger, Strigocuscus, Spilocuscus and Ailurops). Phalangerids originated in the rainforests of Australia by the early Miocene epoch, with early fossil species found in Tasmania and in the famous fossil deposits at Riversleigh in Queensland. Cuscuses were apparently represented by only a single uncommon species at Riversleigh and in Miocene Tasmania, but they have since become more successful and diverse.

Recent research suggests the Trichosurini (possums) split from the remaining phalangerids (cuscuses) 23-29 million years ago (mya). This divergence coincides with the emergence of small portions of Sulawesi and New Guinea from under water, suggesting that the ancestors of today’s cuscuses dispersed to the New Guinea region when these land masses became emergent whilst the possums remained on the Australian land mass.

The cuscuses split into two groups (one containing Ailurops and Strigocuscus celebensis and the other containing Phalanger and Spilocuscus) soon afterwards, around 19–24 mya.

The genus Spilocuscus contains five extant species, three of which are threatened with extinction.
Head and body length: 33-64 cm (in Spilocuscus)
Weight: 6-7 kg
The black-spotted cuscus is one of the largest species of cuscus. Individuals have dense, woolly fur, a bulging forehead, short snout and almost invisible internally-furred ears. The striking eyes have vertically split pupils. Females are larger than males, and there is marked difference in fur pattern and colouration between the two sexes, with females having a dark saddle on the back while males have only an area of mottling or spots.
Very little is known about the ecology of this species. It is arboreal and its diet comprises leaves and fruit. It is probably nocturnal.
Occurs in primary lowland and lower-montane tropical forests. It is sometimes also found in secondary forest.
Widespread, though patchily distributed, in northern New Guinea (Papua, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea). It has been recorded from sea level to 1,200 m.
Population Estimate
Unknown; thought to be rare.
Population Trend
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A4cd) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
This species has been extirpated from parts of its range, presumably as a result of overhunting and human disturbance. It is hunted preferentially by local people for food and cultural reasons. Much of the forest in which it occurred has been converted to agriculture. The western (Papuan) part of its range has been particularly impacted by the influx of people from other parts of Indonesia, resulting in increased pressure on the forest. Large parts of the species’ habitat in Papua have been converted to agriculture, and there are plans to develop logging concessions and oil palm plantations within the region.
Conservation Underway
The species occurs in several protected areas in Indonesia and a management area in Papua New Guinea. It is listed on Appendix II CITES.
Conservation Proposed
Most records of this species are old and there is therefore a need to carry out further research into its numbers, distribution, ecology, and levels of hunting and other threats. Important populations should be protected. Increased public awareness of the species and greater enforcement of hunting restrictions are also needed.
Helgen, K. M. and Flannery, T. F. 2004. Notes on the Phalangerid Marsupial Genus Spilocuscus, with Description of a New Species from Papua. Journal of Mammalogy 85(5):825–833.

Leary, T., Singadan, R., Menzies, J., Helgen, K., Allison, A., James, R., Flannery, T., Aplin, K., Dickman, C. & Salas, L. 2008. Spilocuscus rufoniger. In: IUCN 2010. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. <www.iucnredlist.org>. Downloaded on 15 November 2010.

McNab, B. K. 2008. The Comparative Energenics of New Guinean Cuscuses (Metatheria: Phalangeridae). Journal of Mammalogy, 89(5):1145–1151.

Nowak, R. M. 2005. Walker’s Marsupials of the World. The Johns Hopkins University Press. Baltimore and London.

Raterman, D., Meredith, R. W., Ruedas, L. A. and Springer, M. S. 2006. Phylogenetic relationships of the cuscuses and brushtail possums (Marsupialia: Phalangeridae) using the nuclear gene BRCA1.Australian Journal of Zoology 54(5): 353-361.

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