The explorer

Smith, who lives in Farnham, England and studied biology at university, spends his vacations searching for rare and endangered plants and animals. In his day job, he works for a medical communications firm. On a trip to New Guinea to study rhododendrons last year, he heard about the Wondiwoi tree kangaroo.

“All this just shows that you can find interesting things if you simply go and look,” Smith told National Geographic. “On holidays over the years, I’ve discovered all kind of weird bits of archeology and ethnography. The general belief that there’s nothing more of interest to discover is quite mistaken.”

Is this for real?

The markings and coloring of the animal Smith photographed match the pelt in the Natural History Museum in London. Smith searched for the marsupial at an altitude of 1,500 to 1,700 m (4,921 to 5,577 ft) in the Wondiwoi mountains, which would match the animal’s habitats needs. Local hunters rarely venture higher up than 1,300 m, as the area is covered in an incredibly thick bamboo forest. It’s possible the entire species lives in an unusually isolated patch measuring just 40 to 80 sq miles. The closest mountains that reach the same preferred altitude are several hundred miles away.

Tree kangaroos hang out high in the forest canopy—the one that Smith photographed was about 30 m (90 ft) off the ground. Claw marks on the trees, plus tree-kangaroo dung, was what convinced Smith he was in the right place to begin with. He hopes to compare the DNA in the scat to that in the pelt in London to make a definitive identification.

After that, Smith has a new animal to search for. “There’s a species of ringtail possum in the Arfak mountains that’s known only from a specimen collected in 1884,” he told the Alton Post Gazette, his local newspaper. “I’d like to see if it’s still alive and well somewhere.”

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