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Friday, April 19, 2013

Q is for Quokka

The Quokka (Setonix brachyurus), or 'The Happiest Animal in the World,' is found uniquely in Australia.  Like many of the other species on the continent, quokkas are marsupials.  They live in Western Australia, primarily on Rottnest Island.  Quokkas are actually one of the smallest species of wallaby.


Quokkas sleep in small groups during the day, waking up at dusk to feed on native grasses, leaves, and plant stems in groups of up to 150 individuals!  Their location is often subject to severe droughts.  In response, they have adapted the ability to survive long periods without drinkingInstead, they reuse some of their bodies' waste.  If the drought is exceptionally long, so that it drains the plants of water as well, the quokka is susceptible to dehydration.  

Quokkas live in dominance hierarchies, led by a male.  They produce one offspring per year, a joey, who will live in mom's pouch up to 30 weeks (almost 8 months!) until it is too large to fit. It will suckle for another 8-10 weeks, reaching maturity at around one year.


 So why are quokkas called 'The Happiest Animal in the World?'  Well it has to do with their cute little smile, which I have avoided showing to you up to now.  They literally look like an animated critter come to life.



The quokka is currently listed as vulnerable by the IUCN.  They faced serious decline on the mainland after the introduction of dingos (yes, that's right, dingos are NOT native to Australia) and red foxes.  Luckily neither of these species can reach Rottnest Island, so the quokkas there are safe.  They are not safe, however, from human activity.  As Rottnest Island becomes more of a tourist destination, the quokkas are losing their natural habitat, adapting to human presence, and even changing their schedule to become more active during the day when the tourists feed them.  None of this is good for the population.

There is also good news to this story.  The mainland is seeing a rise in population numbers after conservation efforts by the government and captive breeding at the Perth Zoo.  Rottnest Island is even developing laws to prevent tourist interaction, as development seems unavoidable.  This lesson applies to all wildlife, however- DO NOT FEED THEM!