Island sanctuary brings hope to dwindling quokka population
Author: Laura Chalk
Some animals display facial expressions reflecting their mood far more than others. Horses and dogs, for example, have an array of expressions to demonstrate their emotions. Quokkas seem to be another animal with the ability to do this. And their mood? Permanently set on very happy.
The ‘world’s happiest animal’ has every reason to be smiling, as their numbers – listed as vulnerable – are rapidly increasing due to some unlikely causes: a golf course, smartphones, and our obsession with selfies and social media.
The quokka is an Australian marsupial, part of the wallaby family, found only in a small, south-western pocket of the country. On the mainland, the creature has to contend with invasive predators and habitat loss. However, there’s a sanctuary where they are thriving: Rottnest Island, off the coast of Perth.
In 2012, a man visiting the island took a selfie with a quokka, whose unusual mouth made it appear to be smiling. The photo quickly went viral.
Fast forward to 2017 and the island is being inundated with tourists seeking a selfie snap with the teddy bear-sized creature. As visitation has increased, so too has the quokka population.
The island’s quokkas first encountered people back in 1658, when Dutch explorers mistook them for giant rats (‘rottnest’ is Dutch for ‘rat’s nest’). The animals now run rampant through the settlement areas of the island, behaving like rats, even evolving to accommodate the influx of humans - their phones and their food.
“They’re meant to be nocturnal, but they’ve altered their activity patterns so that they’re awake during the day to be around tourists and scavenge food from them,” says wildlife biologist Veronica Philips.
Philips conducted a recent study affirming the success of these adaptation techniques. The findings show that quokka populations in highly developed parts of the island are in significantly better condition than those from less disrupted habitats. Quokka offspring are also more likely to survive in the developed areas.
There are consequences that have arisen from this close human-quokka living arrangement, however. And as a recent National Geographic article explains, it’s imperative to strike a balance.
Signs on the island warn of heavy fines if tourists are caught feeding the animals. Selfie sticks are encouraged so happy-snappers don’t get too close. More visitors to Rottnest means more cars and quokka road casualties. About 13 to 20 percent of the island’s quokkas live around the golf club, so there’s the fear that if too many become concentrated in one area, they may compete for food and any disease would spread rapidly
According to the CSIRO, the quokka has lost 50 percent of its habitat on the mainland, due to urban and agricultural expansion and logging. Here, the quokkas are also vulnerable to feral cats, pigs and foxes (whereas feral cats have been wiped out on the island). Conservationists warn that the quokka is suffering and many still consider them vulnerable to extinction. Rottnest could indeed prove vital for the quokkas’ survival.
“I’m not too worried about tourism,” Phillips says. “I am very worried about climate change.”
Quokkas depend on lush vegetation for food and hideouts from predators. Karlene Bain, a researcher with the University of Western Australia, has found that quokkas are dependent upon the wettest areas of their habitat range. If rainfall decreases in south-west Australia, as climate scientists expect, that wetland and waterside vegetation will vanish.
The same technology that has driven quokka numbers up could play a part in ensuring the animal’s survival. With quokka videos surpassing a million views on YouTube, their existence, tucked away near the bottom of the globe, is becoming well-known, and their cute smiles well-loved. The hope is that this will promote their protection and cause humans – who have always impacted the quokkas lives both positively and negatively – to consider their actions to reduce climate change, so help to ensure these marsupials will always have something to smile about.
- Be aware of animals, especially when driving. Humans’ co-habiting with wildlife inevitably has an impact, but we can minimise that, and ensure it’s a positive one, by being mindful.
- Take action against climate change through living a low-impact lifestyle. The quokka population risks disappearing if climate change strikes their habitat aggressively. Tips to tread lightly can be found here.
- If visiting Rottnest Island, be aware of the guidelines when hanging out with quokkas.
Subscribe to Positive Environment News.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.
Author: Laura ChalkLaura joined Planet Ark in 2016. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience having travelled the world and a background in teaching English as a second language among other things.
- Back from the brink: recent 'baby boom' offers new hope for endangered southern right whale »
- Picky plants: Growing green in difficult environments »
- How indoor plants can give city-slickers a literal breath of fresh air »
- 1.5 million people, 12 hours, 66 million trees: India's commitment to The Paris Agreement »
- The little Brown Antechinus makes a comeback at Sydney's North Head »
- 81-Year-Old Lebanese woman inspires a nation to recycle »
- How you can make the most of Planet Ark's new research into outdoor learning »
- Capturing Carbon to Tackle Climate Change »
- Futureproofing the Lockyer Valley with 20'000 trees »
- Green Clean for Sydney's Opera House »
- Dugong Numbers on the Rise Again in the Great Barrier Reef »
- Answering the Call to Connect With Nature »
- Scientist Discover Massive New Forests »
- Australia's First Rescued Food Supermarket is a Win-win for the Planet and Those in Need. »
- 'Creature Compost' - Zoo Reduces Landfill and Generates Income »
- Travel Companies Put Kindness Before Profit in Animal Tourism »
- Thousands of Birds Descend Upon Inland Lakes »
- Trees Help Beat Urban Heat »
- Chile's National Parks Expand by 10 Million Acres »
- How A Music Festival Convinced 1400 To Take Their Rubbish Home »
- Old Televisions Converted to Bee Hotels »
- What if Rivers Could Sue? »
- Access to Nature Should be a Human Right - Report »
- Rock-Wallabies Fighting Back »
- Scientists Use Tasmanian Devil's Immune System to Beat Cancer »
- New Coral Reef Rewrites Textbooks »
- Launch of Positive Environment News »