For starters, conjure up a creature the polar opposite of Grumpy Cat? Yes, it's an innate wide grimace that makes this little fellow so adorable. Like Grumpy, it also became an instagram star overnight. But differing from our beloved Grump [who passed away most recently], quokkas didn't make only one pet owner wealthy, they provided a major boost to an entire island's tourism revenues.
Rottnest is an island off the coast of Western Australia, located 11 miles west of Fremantle, Western Australia. A sandy, low-lying island formed on a base of aeolianite limestone, Rottnest is an A-class reserve, the highest level of protection afforded to public land.
Last year, the island's popularity went up 15 percent, bringing in tourism dollars. This in turn is providing significant funding for research and preservation of the quokkas, which at last count tallied 12,000.
It started with selfies, where tourists don't have to work that hard to score a photo op with Rottnest Island's famous creatures.
These marsupials roam the Australian island. They’re extremely friendly with people, often approaching tourists eager to take a quick photo with the so-called “world’s happiest animal” — since the quokka’s mouth naturally curves up to resemble a broad smile.
These furry, pint-sized animals look like what a groundhog and and wallaby might produce if they mated.
“The quokkas are themselves very inquisitive, so they will look at the camera,” Michelle Reynolds, the island’s executive director, tells PEOPLE. “And I’ve seen them smiling.”
Reynolds and the island encourage the selfies, as long as visitors don’t feed or touch the quokkas. But, she acknowledges, “They are very cute, so it’s hard not to want to pet them or touch them.”
Quokka selfies have now become a trend on social media, worthy of special events and visitations from well-known tourists.
The best time to visit Rottnest and the quokka is September, according to Reynolds, who tasked her team to organize a weekend "birth day" event, September 13-15, 2019.
“It’s quite a magnificent opportunity to see little baby joeys,” Reynolds says. “So we thought, ‘How else do you celebrate the arrival of new babies than to have a birthday party?'”
In tandem with these new births, the selfie opportunities grew as well. As Reynolds noted: “It has really highlighted and brought to the attention of the world this most amazing mammal and the opportunity to really see them close up, in their natural environment.”
Quokkas & Celebs
What does Swiss tennis legend Roger Federer have in common with Hollywood actors Hugh Jackman and Teri Hatcher?
They have each taken time out of their visits to Western Australia to make a side trip to Rottnest Island to take some quick quokka selfie.
Similarly, someone's who lives a little closer, actor Chris Hemsworth was happy to check off a fun-to-do off his bucket list.
Quokkas are always willing to mug for the cameras when humans — and Thor from Marvel superheroes, apparently — approach. Chris even fed the tiny creature, using his mouth to give it a plant à la mama bird feeding one of its brood.
So now you have an introduction into the physicality and soul of this happy creature. Don't you think you'd also be smiling to beat the band, if you knew that people were knocking down your doors to catch a pic of Rottnest's real celebrity - its royalty who is ever grinning - the lovable and welcoming quokka!
Primary Source: People Magazine