The quokka is a small, hopping marsupial that spends most of it’s time on the ground. However, they have been known to climb trees to heights of up to 2m (Zoos Victoria 2004). Although it is in the same family as kangaroos, wallabies and pademelons it is classified as its own genus due to a number of differing characteristics. The closest relation to quokkas may be rock-wallabies (Kitchener 1995).
Quokkas have thick, coarse, grey-brown fur. They have short, rounded fluffy ears, a tail 24–31cm long and short hindfeet.
There is a slight difference between males and females with regard to size and weight. Sinclair (1998) found that males are significantly larger than females and McLean and Schmitt (1999) surmised that they are about 22% heavier than females. Not only is there a difference between males and females, but there is a difference between populations. Sinclair (1998) studied and compared five external characteristics at a number of sites on Rottnest Island, Bald Island and on the mainland. His results found that in addition to males being larger than females, there was a general pattern in four of the characteristics showing that animals from higher latitudes tended to be smaller. It is thought that some variation may be due to environmental conditions, but underlying genetic variation may be responsible for a considerable amount of variation (Sinclair 1998).
Habitat and Distribution
Quokkas can be found in a variety of habitats, although dense vegetation or dense semi-arid heath seems to be preferred.
In Western Australia quokkas have been listed as threatened under the Western Australia Wildlife Conservation Act. Quokkas are listed as vulnerable by both the IUCN – The World Conservation Union: Red List Category and Criteria (A1bce, C1) (IUCN 2006) and the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).
Quokkas were once abundant on the Australian mainland but with the arrival of the dingo around 3,500 years ago and then foxes in the late 1800s (neither of which reached Rottnest) their numbers were drastically reduced. Today they are showing some signs of recovery on the mainland, likely to be due to the Department of Environment and Conservation’s feral animal control operations.
Quokkas are herbivores and eat native grasses and the leaves of wattle plants.
Breeding and Lifecycle
The following information is taken from research by Sharman (1955a). Quokkas are polyoestrous with a cycle of 28 days, starting in Jan-March on Rottnest Island and displayed at monthly intervals throughout the year for mainland and captive animals. In captive females, oestrous occurs 1-2 times a year for 1-2 days each time (McLean and Schmitt 1999). Behavioural oestrous lasts about 12 hours and ovulation occurs 12-24 hours after oestrous which is independent of copulation (Sharman 1955a). The gestation period is slightly less than oestrous at 27 days. At the age of about 175 days the young starts to leave the pouch. Lactation continues during the next 3-4 months. At this time the young continues to feed on the elongated nipple from the exterior when too large to enter the pouch (Waring et al. 1955). Young on Rottnest Island are seen to be weaned in October which is roughly 9 months after birth.
The lifespan of quokkas in the wild can be over 10 years (Holsworth 1967). Generally the longevity in the wild is accepted as being slightly less than the estimates of captive lifespans (Jackson 2003).
- Quokkas are able to survive in an environment virtually devoid of freshwater.
- Quokkas can climb trees.
- In the wild quokkas live in territories with the areas defended by the dominant males. They sometimes form groups of 25–150 adults around water soaks.