Few things are as affably cute and good-natured as the quokka. This small macropod marsupial, is a cat-sized cousin of the kangaroo and is mostly found on Rottnest Island, Bald Island and scattered across the coast of Western Australia. They have shot to fame for their complete lack of fear of humans and can often be seen appearing to pose with visitors to Rottnest Island for selfies.
But, there is more to the history of the Quokka than just their cute appearance.
The quokka was first described by Europeans from afar as a cat, before later being misidentified as a rat – giving rise to Rottnest Island’s name from the Dutch for rat nest. Unfortunately, the Quokka’s bad luck with the Europeans didn’t end at simply being called a rat.
In their infinite wisdom, the European colonists of Australia brought a large number of invasive species with them to the continent either as pets (cats & dogs), pests (rats) or for hunting (rabbits & foxes). These invasive species terribly damaged the Australian ecosystem, with the rabbits, in particular, destroying huge swathes of the country.
Sadly, for the quokkas, they were one of the victims.
Whereas in the past their biggest predators had been snakes, now quokkas had to contend with foxes, cats and dogs which decimated their populations on the mainland. The reason quokkas are found in greater abundance on islands like Rottnest is because of the lack of predators that are present there.
This lack of natural predators is the reason for the quokkas incredibly good nature and lack of fear of humans, meaning that they will often approach and be around humans without being frightened. It has become quite common for tourists to take selfies with the quokkas, with the added incentive that quokkas have a face that naturally appears happy.
However, wildlife officials have stressed that humans should not be in direct contact with the quokkas and should avoid touching or feeding them. In fact, a $300 fine can be issued to anyone who directly handles a quokka on Rottnest Island.
Despite the popularity of quokkas amongst the tourists to Rottnest Island, their numbers are unfortunately still in overall decline.