Meet the charismatic creatures hand-reared as pets (but who are eaten or used as hats once they die)

By Daily Mail Reporter

Delicious: The cuscus looks cute and furry when alive, but its meat is a great source of protein for Papua New Guineans

These charismatic little critters may be raised as household pets - but that doesn't stop some Papua New Guineans from later eating them or using their fur for hats.

The cuscus is one of the larger members of the possum family, and can be found throughout the forests of the island - as well as many parts of Australia.

Photographer Michele Westmorland visited the village of Anji, in the island's highlands, to take these pictures of the extraordinary creatures.

Fashionable: The cuscus fur is 'quite soft', which makes it the perfect material for hats and clothes

The Washington State resident said: 'Although these animals can be difficult to see in the wild, many are hand raised as pets.

'They are very sweet animals and somewhat shy. But when they get to breeding age, they can be somewhat hard to handle. The fur is quite soft and I'm always taken by their big eyes and strange alien faces.'

The mammals live almost exclusively in trees and mainly eat fruits and leaves, but will sometimes hunt small birds and reptiles.

But they are also vulnerable to changes in their environment. She added: 'One of the problems today is the loss of habitat for these tree dwellers.

'Logging is one of the most damaging for many wonderful and unusual species on the island of New Guinea. New mining ventures are also increasing in PNG which also destroys important habitat.'

Threatened: The cuscus is at risk from an increase in logging in Papua New Guinea

Michele also explained how important they are to the traditional life of the people of Papua New Guinea.

She added: 'Cuscus is an important part of the culture in Papua New Guinea.The meat is an important protein source.

'The fur is used in the traditional bila, which means body ornaments in pidgin. Their coat is quite soft which is understandable why the locals utilise the fur in hats and body decor.

'This pelt is cherished and taken care of - they are even passed down from one generation to another.'

Headwear: A young woman dressed in traditional wear, wearing the cuscus fur on her head

Video: Cuscus climbs on presenter's head.



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