Search under way after marsupial startles recycling centre worker who thought it was a large rat
January 12, 2017 — Authorities in Western Australia are searching for a quokka that apparently escaped Rottnest Island in a rubbish bin and reemerged on the mainland, startling a recycling centre worker who thought it was a “large rat”.
Native to WA and famous for smiling happily in selfies, quokkas were largely eradicated on the mainland and survived thanks to a large, isolated population on Rottnest Island, a prison camp turned popular holiday destination off the coast of Perth.
They roam free around the island, which is devoid of both cars and large predators, and authorities fear the escaped quokka will not survive an encounter with these new threats.
Reports of the escapee emerged on 10 January, when a WA man working at the recycling centre in Cannington, in Perth’s southern suburbs, realised the blurry photos of a “large rat” presented by his South African colleague were in fact a quokka.
It is a common mistake: Rottnest got its name from Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh who named it Rotte nest, or rat’s nest, in 1696.
Penni Fletcher-Hughes, from Rottnest Island Authority, said it appeared the quokka had climbed into a garbage bin in search of food and was accidentally transferred on to the garbage barge, which took it to Cannington.
“Being as it has got itself in a very good place for food, the chances are it will be fine,” Fletcher-Hughes said. “It just depends where it goes from there.”
Quokka escape was “very unusual,” Fletcher-Hughes said, but finding quokkas in bins is not.
“I have seen them climb the walls; they are quite resourceful when it comes to searching for food,” she said. “We are not concerned in terms of him finding food … it’s other threats and just general stress. It’s a bit stressful to suddenly wake up in a recycling centre.”
The Department of Parks and Wildlife, which is leading efforts to find the rogue marsupial, set up a public hotline to report sightings. “Basically, this quokka is now at large,” wildlife officer Matt Swan said.
The recycling centre is fenced in and surrounded by bushland. It is not clear whether it remains in the centre and is hiding in one of the many piles of rubbish or whether it has slipped through a hole in the fence.
Swan said they could not lay traps, because traps were more likely to catch feral cats or foxes than a quokka. The best hope is someone spotting it. “It’s a needle-in-a-haystack type situation,” he said.
If it is found it will not be returned to Rottnest Island because the risk of infecting the quokka population there with a foreign pathogen is too great. Instead it will be rehomed at either Perth Zoo or a wildlife park.
There have been other reports of animals being accidentally taken off Rottnest Island, usually King skinks, which climb into people’s bags.
Rottnest Island is the largest population of the vulnerable species, with between 8,000 and 12,000 individuals. The second largest population is on Bald Island Nature Reserve, with 1,000 quokkas.
There are estimated to be fewer than 1,000 wild quokkas on the mainland, and most of those localised populations are under threat of extinction.