You may have seen photos of a marsupial with a beaming smile on your social media apps. Quokkas are rightfully termed as the “world’s happiest animal” because of their unique grin.
In 2012, a smartphone-wielding man stumbled across this marsupial in Rottnest Island, in Western Australia said the National Geographic. The man snapped a quick selfie with it and posted it online enamored by the strange rat-like creature with a delightful smile look seemingly permanent on its face. The creatures were famous in a positive way when it went viral.
Many tourists started to flock to Rottnest, Dutch settlers stumbled across when the island was first discovered in 1658 named after the Dutch word for “rat’s nest” due to the quokkas’ infestations. The tourism industry started to boom after people start visiting the island, which is offshore off the city of Perth and after starting to snap selfies with the creatures.
The cute animals are of the same family as kangaroos and wallabies. They are believed to live for an average of up to 10 years.
As they are not really scared of humans and are easily approachable most people can’t seem to get enough of these nocturnal creatures.
Michelle Reynolds, the island’s executive director, told PEOPLE, “The quokkas are themselves very inquisitive, so they will look at the camera. And I’ve seen them smiling.”
The quokkas’ population has started to dwindle in the mainland near Perth.
A research published in the Journal of Zoology in February 2020 by scientists from Vanderbilt University said that invasive species such as European red foxes, rabbits, and goats are likely to be a cause for their decline.
Larisa DeSantis, co-author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Vanderbilt, said in a news release, “Australia has experienced catastrophic losses due to warming temperatures, drought, and the combination of these effects on resident animals. The iconic wildlife Australia is best known for, evolved largely in isolation and has been in decline since Europeans introduced foxes, rabbits, goats, and other animals that have preyed upon and/or competed with native animals for food and water.”
The study also analyzed the teeth of the quokkas from both the fossils and modern specimens. Researchers found the kinds of plants mainland and island quokkas have consumed over time by examining the enamel layers of tooth samples.
Lead author Elinor Scholtz, an undergraduate student at Vanderbilt, said, “Piecing together the ecological history of the quokka helped us better understand why they are an isolated and vulnerable species today. We learned that quokkas on mainland Australia today occupy denser forests than in the past, likely to avoid predation by foxes. In contrast, quokkas typically live in more open habitats and feed on tougher vegetation on islands that lack foxes.”
Even though the Rottnest Island still remains as one of the places where these animals live, the number of quokkas on the island has subsequently been decreasing too every summer due to lack of freshwater. These vulnerable animals have become more prone to extinction due to the destruction caused by the bushfires.
sources used : theepochtimes.com