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It's official. The quokka, once described by a Dutch explorer as "a kind of rat", is the world's happiest animal. Darlings of social media and the subject of countless 'selfies' on Rottnest Island, this small wallaby seems to wear a perpetual smile. But the quokka's fate is nothing to laugh about. Before European settlement it was widely distributed across the southwest of WA, including its offshore islands. Rottnest Island, the holiday destination just off Perth, continues to harbour one of the best known and largest quokka populations. However, mainland populations have dramatically contracted, with their area of occupancy on the mainland possibly halved. The quokka is now restricted to a number of small scattered populations on the mainland, Rottnest and Bald Island, near Albany. Loss and degradation of its habitat and predation by foxes and feral cats are the causes of the quokka's decline. Its distribution also appears to be affected by climatic factors. And as southwest WA dries due to climate change, there will be more habitat loss at the quokka's expense.
What we're doing
Devastating bushfires spelled disaster for mainland quokkas
A large wildlife that raged across southwest Australia in 2015 devastated a significant population of mainland quokkas. The Northcliffe fire burnt 98,000 hectares, making it the biggest fire Western Australia has experienced since 1960. Since then we've been working with the Department of Parks and Wildlife conducting on-ground surveys to find any surviving quokkas.
Keeping track of surviving quokkas
The good news is that we've found animals that have survived in less burnt areas - we've captured them on our remote-sensing cameras. Now we'll be controlling foxes and cats to protect them.
Monitoring quokkas long-term
Understanding what is limiting quokka recovery within the burnt area could hold clues to how they'll fare during the more frequent and intense wildfires predicted in a drying climate. To learn about the impact of these fires and to assist in future management, we'll continue to monitor quokkas over the long-term.
Why it matters
Quokkas are attractive and inquisitive creatures. They’re also beautifully adapted to the unpredictable Australian environment. The quokka clan makes its home in swamps and scrublands, tunnelling through the brush to create shelters and emerging at night to eat grasses, leaves, roots and seeds. When water is scarce, this little wallaby dines on water-storing succulents. It also has a remarkable ability to regulate its body temperature, coping when the mercury reaches as high as 44°C. If vegetation is scarce, it can even climb a small tree to snatch a tasty leaf, plus it stores fat in its short tail. A wily survivor it may be, but the quokka is no match for landclearing or foxes and feral cats. Without human intervention, it faces an uncertain future. It would be a travesty if one of the first Australian mammals seen by Europeans were to be lost on our watch.
Body weight ranges between 2.7-4.2 kg Head and body length is 400-540 mm.
Listed as Vulnerable (EPBC Act 1999 and IUCN Red List).
Did you know?
Quokkas have the ability to store fat in their tails as a means of coping with seasonal food availability.