(Quoy & Gaimard, 1830)
The quokka (//, Setonix brachyurus), the only member of the genus Setonix, is a small macropod about the size of a domestic cat. Like other marsupials in the macropod family (such as kangaroos and wallabies), the quokka is herbivorous and mainly nocturnal.
Quokkas are found on some smaller islands off the coast of Western Australia, Rottnest Island just off Perth and Bald Island near Albany and in isolated scattered populations in forest and coastal heath between Perth and Albany. A small colony exists at the eastern limit of their range in a protected area of Two Peoples Bay Nature Reserve, where they co-exist with the critically endangered Gilbert's potoroo.
The quokka weighs 2.5 to 5 kilograms (5.5 to 11.0 lb) and is 40 to 54 centimetres (16 to 21 in) long with a 25-to-30-centimetre-long (9.8 to 11.8 in) tail, which is fairly short for a macropod. It has a stocky build, rounded ears, and a short, broad head. Although looking rather like a very small kangaroo, it can climb small trees and shrubs. Its coarse fur is a grizzled brown colour, fading to buff underneath.
After a month of gestation, females give birth to a baby called a joey. Females can give birth twice a year. The joey lives in its mother’s pouch for six months. Once it leaves the pouch, the joey relies on its mother for milk for two more months. At 1.5 years old, quokkas are old enough to have their own babies.
Discovery by Europeans
The Dutch mariner Samuel Volckertzoon wrote of sighting "a wild cat" on Rottnest Island in 1658. In 1696, Willem de Vlamingh mistook them for giant rats and named the island "Rotte nest", which comes from the Dutch word rattennest, meaning "rat nest".
In the wild, its roaming is restricted to a very small range in the South-West of Western Australia, with a number of small scattered populations. There is one large population on Rottnest Island and a smaller population on Bald Island near Albany. The islands are free of foxes and cats. On Rottnest, quokkas are common and occupy a variety of habitats ranging from semi-arid scrub to cultivated gardens.
Like most macropods, quokkas eat many types of vegetation, including grasses and leaves. A study found that Guichenotia ledifolia, a small shrub species of the family Malvaceae, is one of the quokka's favoured foods. Rottnest Island visitors are urged to never feed quokkas, in part because eating "human food" can be very detrimental to the quokka's health, causing them to be dehydrated and malnourished. Despite the relative lack of fresh water on Rottnest Island, quokkas do have high water requirements, which they satisfy mostly through eating vegetation. On the mainland quokkas only live in the areas that have 600 mm or more of rain per year.
At the time of colonial settlement, the quokka was widespread and abundant with its distribution encompassing an area of about 41,200 km2 (15,900 sq mi) of south-west Western Australia, inclusive of the two offshore islands, Bald and Rottnest Island. Following extensive population declines in the twentieth century, by 1992 the quokka’s distribution on the mainland was reduced by more than 50% to an area of about 17,800 km2 (6,900 sq mi).
Although numerous on the small offshore islands, the quokka is classified as vulnerable. On the mainland, where it is threatened by introduced predatory species such as foxes, cats and dogs, it requires dense ground cover for refuge. Clearfell logging and agricultural development have reduced this habitat, thus contributing to the decline of the species, as has the clearing and burning of the remaining swamplands. Moreover, quokkas usually have a litter size of one and successfully rear one young each year. Although these animals are constantly mating, usually one day after their young is born, the small litter size paired with the restricted space and threatening predators contribute to the scarcity of these marsupials on the mainland.
The quokka population on Rottnest Island is 8,000–12,000 (est. 2007). Snakes are the quokka's only predator on the island. The population on smaller Bald Island, where the quokka has no predators, is 600–1,000. There are an estimated 4,000 quokkas on the mainland, with nearly all mainland populations in groups of less than 50, although there is one declining group of over 700 in the southern forest between Nannup and Denmark.
The quokka has little fear of humans and it is common for quokkas to approach people closely, particularly on Rottnest Island. It is, however, illegal for members of the public to handle the animals in any way, and feeding, particularly of "human food", is especially discouraged as they can easily get sick. An infringement notice carrying a A$300 fine can be issued by the Rottnest Island Authority for such an offence. The maximum penalty for animal cruelty is a $50,000 fine and a five year prison sentence.
Quokkas can also be observed at several zoos and wildlife parks around Australia; some examples include Taronga Zoo, Perth Zoo, Wildlife Sydney Zoo, and Adelaide Zoo. Physical interaction is generally not permitted without explicit permission from supervising staff.
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- Rottnest Island Regulations 1988 (WA), rr 40 & 73; sched. 4
- "Quokka cruelty: French tourists fined after pleading guilty to burning animal on Rottnest Island - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". Abc.net.au. 2015-04-17. Retrieved 2016-08-25.
- Rottnest Island Regulations 2007 (WA), r 40
- Squires, Nick (12 January 2003). "Rare marsupials kicked to death in 'quokka soccer'". The Daily Telegraph (London).
- Ronald M. Nowak (1999), Walker’s Mammals of the World (6 ed.), Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9, LCCN 98023686
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