Quokka — Happiest Animal in the World What is a Quokka?
The quokka is best known for its cute Mona-Lisa smile that has made it the darling of selfie photographers. Its natural curiosity, friendliness and enigmatic smile make it appear to be always happy. Whatever the reason for its smile the little quokka is hard to resist!
The quokka is one of Australia’s smallest wallabies. It is a herbivorous marsupial macropod. It belongs to the same family of animals as the kangaroo and wallaby, is a plant eater, rears its young in an external pouch and hops.
Roughly the size of a domestic cat, it has a roundish face and head with short rounded teddy-bear ears, black nose and black eyes. The shape of its mouth makes it appear to have a happy smiley face. The quokka has coarse thick greyish brown fur with lighter brown on its underside. It has a slightly hunched stocky body and a relatively short muscular rat-like tail.
Being a macropod the quokka has all the familiar characteristics as these types of animals. It has short small forelimbs with hands with five clawed fingers for grasping and pulling down branches, fighting and grooming. Its hind legs, which are relatively short compared with other macropods, are used for hopping. While very efficient at speed, the quokka's hind legs are ineffective at low speeds and hardly used. It uses pentapedaling locomotion at slow speeds. The female quokka raises its offspring in a pouch located on its abdomen. Male quokkas don't have pouches. The male quokka is larger than the female. A quokka weighs between 2.5 to 5 kilos and is between 40 to 54 centimetres in length.
Why the Quokka Loves Selfies 'Quokka Selfie' - Instagram's Newest Adorable Trend
We have all seen hundreds of photos of cute little quokkas, seemingly happily posing with tourists. Many forget, however, that the quokka is still a wild animal, and a rather clever one at that. It has figured out how to win ours hearts. While it is illegal to feed a quokka, many tourist still do so and the quokka loves our food. Unfortunately many of our foods also make them sick.
So they put on a little show just for us — a rather clever little deception. They come to us and act cute and let us take selfies and we in turn give them little titbits of food. Smart quokka.
Quokka Attack! Attack of the Quokka
Because they seem so friendly and cuddly many humans attempt to get very close to them. While relatively docile and harmless, quokkas will respond if threatened, provoked or attacked. Their first line of defence is to hop away. Or they may let out a loud shriek. If this fails; then they will resort to their last line of defence. Which is to sink their teeth into a fleshy part of their attacker and dangle from their victim as they ferociously scratch and claw away.
It is illegal to touch or feed a quokka. You could be liable for a hefty $300 fine for doing so. But people still try to touch them. While probably unintentional, a quokka is quite capable of nipping a finger or hand. The island's infirmary reported 60 quokka bites last year.
Other Characteristics of the Quokka More Details About the Quokka
Quokkas live in family groups varying in size from 20 to 150 individuals. Dominated by a male, these groups aren't territorial and have overlapping home ranges. While peaceful animals, fights do sometimes occur between males, usually for choice rest locations under a shady tree. Quokkas spend most of the day snoozing in the shade.
These animals are categorised and being nocturnal animals. That is, they are active mainly at night. Strictly speaking they are actually crepuscular. That is that they are most active around dawn and dusk and this activity can continue in the night. During these times quokkas venture out of their daytime shelters, usually in dense vegetation and travel along well-worn paths and tunnels they have forged through grass and shrubs in search of food. It is not uncommon, on Rottnest Island, to the see quokkas moving about during the daytime. This is an adoption by them to be fed by humans.
The quokka is rather nimble and is capable of climbing small trees and shrubs. It lives for about 10 years. Its closest living relatives are thought to be rock wallabies.
Quokkas, today, are found predominantly on the Rottnest Island and Bald Island off the coast of Western Australia. It is estimated that their population on the islands number about 11,000 animals.
The number of animals on the mainland of Australia, in the south-western parts of Western Australia, number less than 1,000.
Quokkas prefer moist conditions with dense scrub-land. On the mainland they are found in vegetation around swamps and near water courses. On Rottnest Island however they have adapted to the seasonally arid and harsh conditions and are thriving there.
Quokkas are browsing herbivores, meaning that they prefer to feed on leaves and soft shoots of woody plants such as shrubs and trees. The quokkas on Rottnest Island, however have adapted to a slightly different diet associated with the food available on the island. Here a large part of their diet consists of succulents and grasses.
Quokkas don’t actually chew their food immediately after they bite it. They simply chop off a piece of vegetation, stuff it into their mouths, and swallow. They later regurgitate their food and chew it thoroughly before swallowing it once more. (Similar to cattle chewing the cud).
Quokkas are fairly resilient animals, while they prefer leaves of shrubs and trees, when these food sources are not readily available, they may even climb up a tree to reach their meals. They also eat water-retaining succulents to supplement their diet. Quokkas get most of the water they require from their food and are capable surviving for months without drinking at all. It is only in very dry conditions that they need to drink water.
Like most macropods, quokkas store fat in their tails as an insurance in hard times when food may scarce.
A quokka becomes sexually active at about 18 months. Female quokkas give birth to a single baby at a time. Female quokkas on the mainland are capable of producing roughly two offspring each year. Quokkas on Rottnest Island however, due to its more arid climate, have a shorter breeding season and have only one offspring an year which is usually born between mid-February and the end of April.
The baby quokka, known as a joey, is extremely small when it is born – it is no larger 1cm and weighs less than 0.4 gram. The reason for this is because quokkas belong to a group of animals known as marsupials. Marsupial babies have two stages of development. One inside the mother like placental mammals such as humans and the other outside the mother’s body in a special external pouch called a marsupium.
Stage 1 – A quokka joey is born approximately 21 days after gestation. When it emerges from its mother’s birth canal it is blind, hairless, with stumpy forelimb and hardly any trace of its hind legs and tail. Using its little forelimbs in a swimming (breaststroke) motion, the young joey crawls laborious up its mother's fur to her pouch. This journey takes it about three minutes. The joey's journey is made entirely by itself. The mother does not assist it in any way.
Stage 2 – Once inside its mother's pouch the joey quickly attaches itself firmly to one of four nipples in her pouch. There the young joey will stay hidden from view for up to six months. Then it will start to tentatively pop its head out of its mother's pouch and observe the world around it. About two weeks later it will have gained enough confidence to venture out of the pouch and hop about close to its mother. However, if frightened it will immediately jump, head first, back into the safety of the pouch. By the time it is about 8 months old the joey no longer uses its mother's pouch. It may still suckle from its mother for another 6 months or so.
How the Quokka Became Almost Extinct Who Caused Quokka Extinction?
Why Quokkas Survive on Rottnest & Bald Islands
The reason quokkas survive on Rottnest and Bald islands is that these islands, which were once connected to the mainland, were separated by the oceans about 6,000 to 8,000 years ago as a result of sea level rise. This was before the arrival of introduced animals such as the dingo and more recently the fox and feral pigs, cats and dogs to Australia. Fortunately these predators could not swim and were not introduced to these offshore islands
Fossil evidence indicates that quokkas once occupied an area of over 41,000 sq. kilometres of south-western Western Australia, and were widespread when the first European settlers arrived in the region in 1829. But within just a century the population of quokkas had plummeted drastically. As recently as the 1930s quokkas were still abundant on mainland Australia and were even declared vermin (Government Gazette of WA 1933) and actively hunted and poisoned on a large scale. This eradication strategy together with the introduction of the red fox in the 1930s brought about the catastrophic decline in the number of quokkas on the mainland.
Human Cruelty to Quokkas Humans Harming Quokkas
Not all humans are nice to quokkas. Occasionally you hear of incomprehensible cruelty by humans towards these harmless animals. In April 2015 two French tourists ignited an aerosol spray producing a 30cm flame that singed the fur on the head and body of a quokka. They were each fined $4,000 and jailed when they claimed they couldn't pay the fine. The quokka survived the ordeal without serious injury and was spotted on the island with burnt fur on one side of its body. In February 2017 a man was videoed kicking a quokka numerous times. He was fined $4,000. A New Zealand man caught a quokka and threw it into the sea. Luckily the distressed animal swam ashore safely. The man claimed in court that he merely “placed” the quokka in the water and that he didn’t actually throw it in. The judge fined him $2,000 for his act of cruelty.
The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is a $50,000 fine and five years in jail.
Threats to Quokkas on Rottnest Island
Quokkas on the remote offshore islands of Rottnest Island and Bald Island are strictly protected and the quokka populations there are stable.
Native Predators - There no native predators on Rottnest Island and Bald Island.
Humans - The major threat to quokkas on this islands is misplaced human kindness and occasional cruelty. Feeding quokkas "human food" can affect their digestion and also make them depended on human largess.
Introduced Animals - There are no introduced predators on Rottnest Island and Bald Island. Cats were introduced by European settlers both as pets and as predators but these have since been eradicated from the island.
Threats to Quokkas on Mainland Australia
There are less than 1,000 quokkas on the Australian mainland. They live in very small areas on the southernmost tip of Western Australia. These areas are now protected and the quokka populations there have stabilised.
Native Predators - There no native predators of adult quokkas. Young quokkas, however, fall victim to goannas — native monitor lizards, and wedge-tailed eagles.
Humans - Human activities such as hunting and land clearing once affected quokka populations on the mainland. But the quokka and its habitat is now strictly protected.
Quokkas are classified as vulnerable. There are approximately 10,000 quokkas on Rottnest Island. And very small numbers on mainland Australia. While Rottnest Island has been commercialised, with over 500,000 visitors arriving each year, its high profile publicity and the revenue raised is helping to protect these vulnerable animals.
How the Quokka Got Its Name
Local Aboriginals referred to this little animals by a number of names including as ‘quak –a’ and ‘kwoka’ and the European started calling it a ‘quokka’.
The quokka is also sometimes referred to as a short-tailed pademelon or short-tailed wallaby.
Its scientific species name is Setonix barchyurus. The genus name ‘Setonix’ is derived from the Latin ‘seta’ meaning bristle and the Greek ‘onyx’ meaning claw. The species name ‘barchyurus’ is derived from the Greek ‘brachys’ for short and ‘oura’ for tail.
The work 'quokka' is pronounced in a number of different ways. Some pronounce it kwo-ka (rhymes with “mocha”). The majority say kwah-ka (rhymes with “wokka").
How Rottnest Island Got Its Name
Rottnest Island is a 19 sq. kilometre island of the coast of Western Australia, near the present day city of Freemantle.
In 1658, Samuel Volckertzoon, the captain of the Dutch sailing ship Waeckende Boey, whose crew landed on this island off the coast of Western Australia, noted in his journal that he saw a wild cat, resembling a civet-cat, but with browner hair. He was the first European to record the sighting of a quokka.
In 1696 ,Willem de Vlamingh, another Dutch sailor explored the same island and described that the island as overrun with ‘rats the size of cats’. He named the island "Rotte nest" — meaning rat’s nest. This name eventually evolved to the island’s present name of Rottnest Island.
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