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View a short video of the Quokkas on Rottnest Island:
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Photo: Chris Johnson

May 9, 2002
  Real Audio

Log Transcript

Genevieve Johnson

This is Genevieve Johnson speaking to you from the Odyssey.

The day before we left Fremantle, the crew took a tour of Rottnest Island. Passenger ferries take tourists out to Rottnest, which is situated about 19 kilometers off the coast of Perth. This low-lying island is a public reserve and wildlife sanctuary. Although close to the city, it feels like an entirely isolated world, and in many ways it is. People are not allowed to live here, and there are no cars. As a result, there are two ways to explore it: on foot, or by bicycle. This gives the place a leisurely, tranquil, 'back to nature' feel.

The other day, some of the crew made the trip out to Rottnest Island intent on searching for one or Australia's rarest marsupials-a miniature kangaroo most people have never heard of, but which has been well known to the local aboriginal inhabitants for centuries: the Quokka.

Quokkas are not afraid of people which allows visitors to interact with them extremely close.
Photo: Chris Johnson

When Dutch explorers first saw the quokka on Rottnest Island 300 years ago they mistakenly assumed it was a giant species of rat, and named the island 'Rat's nest' (later modified to Rottnest). Today, although Quokkas fight for survival on the mainland they are still numerous here. At the time of European settlement, they were plentiful in South Western Australia, today only scattered, remnant populations remain, and Quokkas are now defined as a threatened species. Land clearing for settlement accelerated their decline, while the introduction of dogs, cats and especially foxes, spelled disaster for these defenceless little marsupials. It was their death warrant. Rottnest Island is now and haven to most survivors. The few remaining animals on the mainland are very timid and are extremely hard to find.

The crew rented bicycles and rode around the island, keeping a sharp look out for the Quokkas. We were told that they tend to congregate in family groups of 25 - 150 animals, and that each group has a preferred home range. Spotting Quokkas in the middle of the day proved challenging as they typically spend the afternoon hours resting. They find protection from the sun under shady clumps of Sedge, Tee-trees or Wattle trees where their grizzled grey-brown fur blends perfectly into the backdrop of the extremely dry vegetation of their island home.

Since they are vegetarians, Quokkas eat shrubs and juicy plants as well as the same tree species that protect them. April marks the end of summer in Australia, so food is scarce at this moment. As a consequence, the Quokkas are surprisingly bold. They readily accepted new green shoots from us that were high off the ground and out of their reach. It almost seems as though these animals have learned to use their extraordinary charm to lure the gullible and eager tourists like us that visit their island each year into feeding them. Readily approaching people, these little wallabies, exude a charm and charisma that is utterly irresistible. They Weigh only 2-4-kg, and when resting on their haunches sit no higher than 30 centimeters (about a foot).

Quokkas live for an average of 10 years, maturing at the age of two. On Rottnest they breed only once each year, and as with all marsupials, raise their young in a pouch. If the newborn young (nicknamed a 'joey') doesn't survive, the mother gives birth shortly thereafter to another. That is because she carries an embryo that remains dormant unless its development is activated by the death of her first joey.

Careful management of the natural habitat, along with education centers for the tourists, are an important part of anyone's experience during a visit to Rottnest Island.

Quokkas are rarely found on mainland Australia due to the impact of introduced species.
Photo: Chris Johnson

Gen talking to the camera at the education center. (We recorded this on camera at Rottnest, Gen is surrounded by Quokkas.)

Thankfully, the isolation of this place is allowing these quokkas to survive in numbers approaching 10,000. However, these animals are the lucky ones. Australia currently accounts for one third of the world's mammal species that have become extinct in modern times. Back on the mainland, Quokkas, together with countless millions of endemic marsupial mammals are becoming increasingly rare due to habitat destruction and introduced species.

Log by Genevieve Johnson

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