Quokka Quandary
By Peter Murphy - Preston Environment Group - Oct 2010

Rottnest Island is one of my favorite 'chill out' destinations. I just love everything about it; ferry trip, crystal blue water, snorkeling, limestone cliffs, sea eagles, bikes, and of course quokka. Where else in the world would you experience these unique little marsupials scooting between the legs of the estimated 500,000 tourists who visit the Western Australian tourism icon each year?

Quokka were first sighted on the island in 1658 by Dutch navigator, Samuel Volkertsoon, but it wasn't until 1698 that another Dutch navigator, Willem de Vlamingh described the animal as a giant rodent; hence the naming of the animals island habitat, Rottnest; meaning Rats-nest in his native language.
Of course to most Sandgropers, the island is now affectionately known as just 'Rotto'.

It took almost another 130 years before quokka were recognised as a true marsupial, and that they also inhabited areas of South West forests between Moore River to the north, and Bremmer Bay to the south, including Bald Island near Albany.

Naturalist, John Gilbert in 1840, probably noted the Aboriginal name 'quokka' when he witnessed a 'quokka hunt' being carried out by traditional owners of the region, the Bibbulmum people.

Mammal experts believe mainland quokka became separated from the Rottnest mob, when sea levels rose during the last melting of the ice caps around 10,000 years ago.

By the late 1930's, quokka were thought to be extinct from the mainland, until a small colony was re-discovered in the late 1950's near Serpentine south of Perth.

It took almost another 30 years before mainland quokka were recognized as 'rare' or 'vulnerable' - meaning that they could eventually become extinct if their forest habitat was not protected.

Reasons for their decline has been attributed to feral predation, logging, mining, land clearing, including a changed fire regime. A changed fire regime meant that the old practice of aboriginal fire stick farming has given way to large areas of forest been burnt at once, rather than small mosaic patches.

As mainland quokka began to disappear, they became protected under several State and Federal conservation Act's or laws. This meant it was illegal to kill or harm quokka, or destroy their habitat.
Australia even signed an international biodiversity agreement in 1995 to protect quokka called the: Montreal Process. Other conservation Act's that protect quokka are:
" Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 (WA)
" Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth)
" National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity 1996 (Commonwealth)

In July of 2005, the government department in charge of protecting quokka, the Department of Environment and Conservation trapped quokka while conducting a native mammal survey in the Arcadia forest 30kms east of Bunbury. This small colony was said to have numbered about 15 animals.

For this small colony of quokka to survive, the animals need undisturbed habitat including protection from feral predators such as foxes and cats. However there is a more destructive force at play in quokka habitat in Arcadia. And that is the notorious logging arm of the state government, the Forest Products Commission. The FPC plan to log the Arcadia forest within the next few months, and with the logging operations; will also come 30 tonne logging machines, which crush every living organism in their path. Once the machines are done, then the DEC - on behalf of the FPC - will incinerate what's left standing in Arcadia.

A soon to be released scientific report by mammal experts in the Department of Environment and Conservation, warns of mainland quokka extinction if their forest habitat is not protected.

If you can assist our Quokka Rescue campaign, please contact us on 97 321270 or 043 997 6507.