The Upside Down Under
The Quokka


The Quokka has been described by many as the friendliest and cutest animal on earth.

This post comes as a request from Sara Taylor (aka Dimples), a good friend from Michigan in the USA. Well, here ya go Sara...

The quokka, a teddy bear-sized marsupial found only in southwestern Australia, is struggling on the mainland, where it has to contend with invasive predators and habitat loss. But on Rottnest Island, just off the coast of Perth, the Quokka population has exploded.

They have been described as the "world's happiest animal" and a photo of a Quokka snapping a selfie has proven why.

The cute and friendly Quokka
Quokka: 'World's happiest animal'. Photo: Instagram/@cambojones2020

The main reason for the quokka’s extreme cuteness is its face, with that little smile that makes them seem super-happy. That may just be the way the quokka’s mouth is shaped though. Quokkas also open their mouths to pant, like dogs, when they get hot, which sometimes look like the quokka is giving us a big smile. Whatever the reason it’s a smile that’s hard to resist!

The Smiling Quokka
The apparent smile of a Quokka is hard to resist.

Around the size of a cat, with the tail of a rat, the nocturnal marsupials can only be found on Australia's Rottnest Island and a handful of smaller islands around the coast of Western Australia.

Part of the kangaroo and wallaby family, it has become something of a tourist attraction and visitors flock to the island to try snap a photo with the friendly quokka.

The quokka weighs 2.5 to 5 kilograms (5.5 to 11.0 lb) and is 40 to 54 centimetres (16 to 21 in) long with a 25-to-30-centimetre-long (9.8 to 11.8 in) tail, which is fairly short for a macropod. It has a stocky build, rounded ears, and a short, broad head. Although looking rather like a very small kangaroo, it can climb small trees and shrubs. Its coarse fur is a grizzled brown colour, fading to buff underneath.

A Quokka family
A Quokka Mum & Joey

After a month of gestation, females give birth to a baby called a joey. Females can give birth twice a year. The joey lives in its mother’s pouch for six months. Once it leaves the pouch, the joey relies on its mother for milk for two more months. At 1.5 years old, quokkas are old enough to have their own babies.

A Quokka mum with Joey in pouch
A Quokka mum with a Joey in her pouch

The quokka has little fear of humans and it is common for quokkas to approach people closely, particularly on Rottnest Island. It is, however, illegal for members of the public to handle the animals in any way, and feeding, particularly of "human food", is especially discouraged as they can easily get sick. An infringement notice carrying a A$300 fine can be issued by the Rottnest Island Authority for such an offence. The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is a $50,000 fine and a five year prison sentence.

Quokkas can also be observed at several zoos and wildlife parks around Australia; some examples include Taronga Zoo, Perth Zoo, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, and Adelaide Zoo. Physical interaction is generally not permitted without explicit permission from supervising staff.

A young Quokka
A young Quokka Joey at Taronga Zoo

A Quokka's Diet

Quokkas eat many types of vegetation, including grasses and leaves. A study found that Guichenotia ledifolia, a small shrub endemic to Western Australia, is one of the quokka's favoured foods. Rottnest Island visitors are urged to never feed quokkas, in part because eating "human food" can be very detrimental to the quokka's health, causing them to be dehydrated and malnourished. 

Guichenotia ledifolia
Quokkas love to eat the shrub Guichenotia ledifolia.

Despite the relative lack of fresh water on Rottnest Island, quokkas do have high water requirements, which they satisfy mostly through eating vegetation. On the mainland quokkas only live in the areas that have 600 mm or more of rain per year.

Quokka Population

At the time of colonial settlement, the quokka was widespread and abundant with its distribution encompassing an area of about 41,200 km2 (15,900 sq mi) of south-west Western Australia, inclusive of the two offshore islands, Bald and Rottnest Island. Following extensive population declines in the twentieth century, by 1992 the quokka’s distribution on the mainland was reduced by more than 50% to an area of about 17,800 km2 (6,900 sq mi).

Quokka Distribution
Map showing the decline of the Quokka

Although numerous on the small offshore islands, the quokka is classified as vulnerable. On the mainland, where it is threatened by introduced predatory species such as foxes, cats and dogs, it requires dense ground cover for refuge. Clearfell logging and agricultural development have reduced this habitat, thus contributing to the decline of the species, as has the clearing and burning of the remaining swamplands. Moreover, quokkas usually have a litter size of one and successfully rear one young each year. Although these animals are constantly mating, usually one day after their young is born, the small litter size paired with the restricted space and threatening predators contribute to the scarcity of these marsupials on the mainland.

A Quokka Family
A Quokka Family

The quokka population on Rottnest Island is 8,000–12,000 (est. 2007). Snakes are the quokka's only predator on the island. The population on smaller Bald Island, where the quokka has no predators, is 600–1,000. There are an estimated 4,000 quokkas on the mainland, with nearly all mainland populations in groups of less than 50, although there is one declining group of over 700 in the southern forest between Nannup and Denmark.

In 2015 an extensive bushfire near Northcliffe nearly eradicated one of the local mainland populations, with an estimated 90% of the 500 quokkas dying.[16]

At the end of summer and into autumn, there is a seasonal decline of quokkas on Rottnest Island, where loss of vegetation and reduction of available surface water can lead to starvation.[13][17]

Is the Quokka the world's friendliest and cutest animal?

Video by Chris Fronzak - Published on Apr 20, 2015
I recently made a trip to Rott Nest Island off the western coast of Australia so that I could visit the friendliest & cutest animal on earth- The Quokka! It was every bit as awesome as I expected it to be. These little guys are truly amazing creatures.


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