I seem to be a bit fixated on wildlife lately, don't I, but all these amazing creatures that surround us are so fascinating and none more than the quokka. Have look at this and this and you'll see what I mean. Sweet little creatures, aren't they.
The quokka is a small, brown furred marsupial, about the size of domestic cat. They are found mainly on Rottnest Island (just a few kilometres off the coast from Perth in Western Australia). There are a few more small colonies in the bush and on islands off the coast in the south west of the state but they, like so many of our small natives animals, are under threat from feral cats and dogs and foxes, not to mention natural predators like hawks and dingos. As a result their status is listed as vulnerable.
At least those on Rottnest don't have to contend with introduced enemies because, while it is a popular holiday destination, the island is also an A class reserve (and has been since 1917) and none of these introduced animals have been allowed to establish there. Rottnest was actually named for the quokka. In 1696, when Willem de Vlamingh was sent by the VOC (the Dutch East India Company) to find any survivors from their missing vessel, the Ridderschap van Holland, he and his crew landed on the island. He named it Rotte Nest after what he took to be large rats. Mind you, how he could have come to that conclusion I don't know. Anything less rat-like is hard to imagine. They actually look like small, stockily built kangaroos.
The quokkas have been there right through Rottnest's chequered history since European settlement, from the beginning when it was used for farming and a holiday place for the Governor and his officials to later serving as a gaol for Aboriginal prisoners. Although the prison closed in 1904, this shameful part of the island's history still resonates today since many of the prisoners (a large number of whom came from the north of the state and suffered greatly from the cold) died of disease and were buried on there. It's hard to conceive of how hard it must have been for them.
Since then (except for the war years of 1940-1945 when it was it was used by the military) the island has been a popular place for recreation with its soft buff heritage buildings one of its trademarks - originally they were whitewashed but the strong Western Australian sun created too much glare.
Through all these changes the quokkas have remained. Because they are protected they are very tame. In fact one of the few problems of staying on the island is ensuring they don't hop in through open doors for a visit. The last time I stayed there one little mother with a joey at foot knew very well there was a drip from the hot water system in the back yard of the cottage we were staying in. She'd wait until someone left the gate open for a minute and then they'd hop quickly in, through the cottage and out to the drip. There they would have a drink and graze for a while then wait patiently until the doors were opened and they could leave. It's just as well the cleaners come around after the cottages are vacated or, especially in the off season, the quokkas could be there for some time, though with plenty of grass and water I doubt they'd be too worried.
Quokkas are macropods like kangaroos and are herbivores. They are described as mainly nocturnal but, on Rottnest at least, you will see them during the day as well. In protected habitats like Rottnest and Bald Island they have no fear of humans and will come very close to people. To protect them there are very strict laws. On Rottnest, for example, anyone handling them in any way can be fined anything from $300 - $2000.