a protected nature reserve near Perth
Rottnest Island a protected nature reserve near Perth © Sarah Mills

Australian Animals

Meet the Quokka

Western Australia’s world famous wallaby

If you’re ever lucky enough to meet a Quokka, chances are you’ll break out in a grin. This popular marsupial is synonymous with Perth’s favourite holiday spot, Rottnest Island – a short ferry ride from the Port of Fremantle. In fact, it’s how the island got its name – Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh named it ‘Rotte Nest’ (‘rats’ nest’), mistaking the ubiquitous small macropods (the kangaroo and wallaby family) on the beautiful Mediterranean-like island as giant rats.

Find out about our work to save another threatened wallaby – the Black-flanked Rock-wallaby.

Around 10,000 Quokkas live in Rottnest but very small populations also survive on the mainland’s south-west forests such as those near Northcliffe. Overall the species is listed as vulnerable due to predation by feral animals (cats and foxes), altered fire patterns and habitat loss.

The Rottnest Island population has become very accustomed to humans but visitors shouldn’t touch the Quokkas and definitely shouldn’t feed them.  Human foods are very bad for their health.

Western Australia’s world famous wallaby
Quokka Western Australia’s world famous wallaby © Sam West

Quokka reproduction

Quokkas give birth just 27 days after mating. The tiny, pink, hairless and blind joey then finds its way to the mother’s pouch where it stays for around six months. If the joey doesn’t survive, the mother can give birth to another one shortly after because she has others in her womb in a suspended state of development as a back-up in case tragedy befalls the older joey.

Like many macropods, when threatened, Quokka mothers may expel the joey from their pouch leaving it squealing on the ground. A chasing predator is attracted by this giving the mother time to get away. It sounds harsh but it’s better than both mother and baby ending up as prey.  And it’s another good reason why Quokkas shouldn’t be interfered with on Rottnest.

Diet

Quokkas are herbivores that eat a variety of grasses and shrubs. When food is scarce they can draw on stored fat in their tails for energy to get them through. As travellers to the island might know, fresh water is in short supply on Rottnest so it’s just as well that Quokkas can survive on very little of it – lasting up to a month without a drink.

Quokkas are herbivores that eat a variety of grasses and shrubs.
Quokka eating Quokkas are herbivores that eat a variety of grasses and shrubs. © Sam West

Junk food is bad for Quokkas too

Studies have shown that the Quokkas found close to the human settlements on the east end of Rottnest are the social outcasts of the wild population.  Scrounging for junk food high in salt left by island visitors can really dehydrate these individuals worsening their health. So, you guessed it, don’t feed the Quokkas.