Australia is home to a wonderful (and large) cast of weird and unique critters, but the most endearing of the lot have to be the ever-smiling quokkas. Close relatives to kangaroos and wallabies, these furry plant-eaters are the only mammals native to Rottnest Island, located off the coast of Fremantle.
Rottnest has been the known home for quokkas since the 17th century when a Dutch sea captain saw the little rodent-like creatures and named the island after them (Rottnest literally meaning ‘rat’s nest.’) The thick swamp vegetation of the island provides the perfect ecosystem for the quokkas to survive, especially as they have come under threat in the Australian mainland. While a few quokkas are still found in eucalyptus forests and along the banks of rivers on the mainland, several factors such as habitat destruction, predatory animals (like foxes and domestic cats), and human persecution (they were poisoned by many who considered them to be ‘pests’) have drastically reduced their numbers. Out of the 14,000 quokkas that exist in the wild today, 12,000 are found in Rottnest.
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But the quokkas on Rottnest are the friendliest fauna in the Australian outback, always ready to smile for a selfie. Since there are no predators on the island, these marsupials don’t live a life of threat or fear, and are welcoming to the 770,000 tourists that visit the island annually. Couple this with their affinity for finding discarded food in trash, and the tourism economy of the island suits them just fine. In fact, a study published in ‘Hystrix’, an Italian mammalogy journal, found that the quokkas found in parts of the island which are more developed for tourism fared considerably better than their more isolated brethren, due perhaps to the constant stream of leftovers from tourists to tide them over in the leaner months. So there’s no guilt in paying these cheerful critters a visit.
Island authorities do give tourists a few guidelines though. The quokkas should not be fed; they will unknowingly eat whatever is offered to them and human foods (especially processed products, such as bread), can lead to critical health issues. Moreover, they should not be touched. They are, after all, wild animals, and have bitten many visitors in the past, albeit mainly when attempting to snatch food from their hands.
While these photogenic furballs have been the main tourist attraction of the island over the past few years, Rottnest has plenty more to offer. There are 63 beaches to lounge on, a host of water-bound activities, such as snorkelling and glass-bottomed kayaking to engage in, and plenty of trekking and bicycle routes on the mainland. Travellers can even skydive on to the island to get a one-of-a-kind look at it. Rottnest has more than enough going on to keep visitors occupied in-between photo-ops with its resident animal celebrities.