One of Australia’s newest tourist attractions is the adorable quokka, a rat like marsupial that is friendly towards visitors allowing tourists to take pictures up close and personal. The cute quokkas attract people not only with their docile demeanour, but also with their tiny, fluffy bodies. They are also known as the short-tailed scrub wallaby. The quokkas fall under the family Macropodidae, as their more well-known relative, the Kangaroo. Like their larger relatives, they are herbivorous. Growing up, their size is similar to that of a domestic cat and can live up to 10 years. It is believed they were first sighted in the 17th century by Dutch sailors, mistaken for wild cats.
Preferred environment and diet for the cute quokkas
Like their larger relatives, they are herbivorous. Quokkas are nocturnal, so they are active at night-time, feeding on plant life such as grass, leaves, stems, roots and succulents. They are more active at night because the Australian climate is significantly cooler allowing them to expend more energy without overheating. During the daytime, when the temperature is significantly higher, the quokkas like to sleep in the shade under shrubbery or inside their tunnels.
Due to the diet and physiology of the quokka, they do not need to drink much water and prefer to eat moist plant life which provides enough water for them to survive. In times of hardship the quokkas are well adapted, because they store fat inside their short tail. That means they can survive for long periods of time without food or water by using this fat reserve.
Area of activity and population
The quokkas reside on the western coast of Australia near Perth and some of the surrounding islands. The main population resides on Rottnest Island and other smaller populations reside on Bald Island and in the south-west mainland in forested areas such as Northcliffe.
Breeding season on Rottnest Island is from January to August and they only give birth once a year. On the mainland the Quokka can breed all year round and can give birth twice a year. After a month of pregnancy, the female gives birth to a joey, which then spends 6 months in its mother’s pouch. The joey relies on its mother’s milk for another 2 months before becoming independent.
With the main population of Quokka being restricted to Rottnest Island and the mainland population is dwindling, their conservation status is listed as Vulnerable. The population on the mainland has decreased significantly due to factors such as the introduction of predatory species such as dogs, cats and foxes and the destruction of their habitat due to human development and deforestation. In 2015 there was a large forest fire in southwest Australia that destroyed a large population of the mainland quokkas. This fire was one of the the biggest fires that had impacted Western Australia since 1960 and has had a massive impact on the wildlife in the area, according to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund).
Apparent love for selfies
When you look at some of the cute quokkas, they often appear to be smiling. Combined with their friendly nature, this started an internet trend around the mid 2010’s, called the quokka selfies. Visitors began taking selfies with the furry little critters. There were several high-profile celebrities such as Roger Feder, Margot Robbie, Shawn Mendes and Chris Hemsworth that took part in the quokka selfie trend. This made the number of tourists grow exponentially. As with most wild animals, you shouldn’t go touch or feed them, as advised by the Rottnest Island Authority (RIA). Feeding the quokkas ‘human food’ can cause harm to the animals due to their biology. It can cause many health problems.
Sometimes the cute quokkas behave in less than cute ways. There is the possibility for them to attack. These attacks are usually due to visitors, usually children, getting too close for comfort and the quokka feels threatened enough to bite their fingers. While plenty of quokkas are docile enough, be very cautious when trying to take a selfie with one. Otherwise, appreciate and respect this wonderful marsupial!