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“Pic of the Week”. February 08, 2013. Quokka, Rottnest Island, Western Australia.

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Australia is a remarkable place to visit, with some of the most interesting flora and fauna anywhere.  From flocks of colorful parrots, to medicinal smelling groves of eucalyptus, to troops of kangaroos bouncing around the bush, if you love nature Australia will fully engage you.

My wife and I were visiting Western Australia some years ago, attending a meeting in Perth before exploring the region.  Not far from Perth is the port city of Freemantle; from here you can catch a ferry to Rottnest Island, home to the charming Quokka.

Quokkas are not much larger than a housecat and, like kangaroos, they are marsupials (with pouches for their young).  They were once common in Western Australia but the introduction of predators (dogs especially) devastated them.  The original Europeans were hard on these little guys, which they considered pests.   This misperception of quokkas goes back to the Dutchman who named the place Rottnest (ie. rat’s nest because he thought they resembled big rats).  A favorite pass-time a few centuries back, after drinking large portions of alcohol, was “punting a quokka” — basically treating these cute creatures like a soccer ball.  Now there are only small colonies of quokkas persisting, the best preserved on isolated Rottnest Island (where an estimated 10,000 survive).

My experience with this particular quokka was truly special!  We were hiking around the island with friends Marg and Bill when we spotted him.  I slowly knelt down and snapped this photo with a zoom lens.  The animal studied me, then hoped over, leaned against my leg and looked closely into my lens (?? saw his reflection).   After a minute he looked me in the eye, then hoped away.  I have no idea what he was thinking, but it’s one of those special travel moments I’ll never forget.

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