The quokka: this little creature which seems like something straight out of a fantasy novel has recently become a viral internet sensation, deemed “The happiest creature on earth” due to their cheery smile and inquisitive personality. But what exactly is a quokka anyway?
The quokka (pronounced kwo-ka (rhymes with “mocha”)), is a cat-sized marsupial from Rottnest Island in western Australia, measuring 16-21 inches in length. Mainly nocturnal, they live in the thick vegetation, swampland, and thickets of Rottnest Island and in the eucalyptus forests and riverbanks on the mainland, digging tunnels and caverns. Once night falls, the quokka emerges from its subterranean home to find food. As herbivores, their diet is made up of bark, leaves and stems from their habitat’s plant life. If food is scarce, the fat stored in their rat-like tails help them survive. And they don’t just forage on the ground; they are also good at climbing trees to forage for succulent leaves. But they aren’t strict about being active only at night; they sometimes spend time in the shade during daylight hours.
While they can be found on the Australian mainland, the quokka is mainly found at Rottnest Island. Those on the mainland breed year-round, but those found on the island only breed from January to August. After a month’s gestation, the quokka joey will live in its mother’s pouch for 6 months, and then relying on milk for another 2 months following leaving the pouch. The quokka can breed once it reaches a year and a half old, and is capable of having two joeys per year. They also have a fairly long lifespan of up to 10 years in the wild. On Rottnest Island, there are approximately 12,000 quokkas. Sadly, these creatures are considered vulnerable to extinction due to predators such as foxes and the destruction of their natural habitat through the logging industry.
Due to the scarcity of natural predators on Rottnest Island, the quokka are not very fearful of humans. And thanks to photos that some of the over 500,000 visitors to Rottnest Island have taken of/with the quokka, such as the photos below, these cheery marsupials might not become extinct after all..
The viral photos posted online by Rottnest Island’s numerous tourists has brought awareness to the until-recently, relatively unknown marsupial, the quokka. Since there are relatively few quokkas living in the wild today, conservationists are working to preserve the species and their habitat, controlling the predators (including foxes) and managing the quokka’s natural habitat.