Feature by Fleur Bainger
Google 'quokka selfie' and some 5,920,000 results pop up.
Aussie actor Hugh Jackman is in on the trend, so is A Bikini A Day instagram sensation Natasha Oakley and Doc Martin UK star, Martin Clunes. Take a look at the photos posted online and it's not hard to see why A-grade celebs and regular holidaymakers alike are lining up to snap themselves alongside the ultra-cute quokka, which is native to Western Australia. The friendly creature has been dubbed "the happiest animal in the world", comically pulling cheeky grins and cutie-pie smiles for the camera. In some shots, they even look as though they're laughing.
The art of the quokka selfie is one that anyone can master. But first – some need-to-know info. These gorgeous, fuzzy marsupials, which look like a cross between a chinchilla and a wallaby, are classed as a vulnerable species and protected by law. Hunted until 1917, there are now an estimated 8,000 to 12,000 found on Rottnest Island, a conservation-focused Class A nature reserve about 19km off the coast of WA's capital city, Perth. The resident quokka population has been separated from the mainland for 7,000 years, which possibly explains their uninhibited nature. Other, smaller groups are found in tiny pockets of the state, including inside the Valley of the Giants at Walpole, a towering forest of ancient trees in the State's south west.
Rottnest Island is by far the easiest place to interact with them. The name 'Rottnest' is actually inspired by the furry inhabitants, after 17th century Dutch explorers mistook them for cat-sized rats. The translation of the island's title literally means rat's nest. Unlike many Australian animals, quokkas are not dangerous and they're often seen hopping along paths and communing under trees that divide the island's 63 white, sandy beaches. With no cars on Rottnest Island – everyone travels by bike – the marsupials make their way around unhindered. They're regularly spotted weaving through legs at the oceanside pub, and looking on as people have a hit of tennis or a round of golf.
Quokka on Rottnest Island
Professional Perth-based photographer, Jarrad Seng, says a good selfie requires the right lighting. "Portraits usually look the nicest when everyone is evenly lit, and a quokka selfie is no different! I'd always go for shade, but a little bit of direct sun is okay, too – just make sure that you are both in the same kind of light to avoid exposure problems," he says. Seng also has advice on pulling the right pose. "You want to be as low to the ground and as close to the quokka's level as you can. Having the quokka a little closer to the camera will also reduce the size difference between you and help the little guy shine in front of the camera," he says.
Finally, play with the settings on your camera or smartphone before you start. "Most smartphones have some form of burst or continuous mode which will help increase the chances of both of you getting your good side in shot," says Seng. Quokkas are actually nocturnal, but Knight says, like Canada's bears, many come out during the day because they're hoping for human food – a naughty habit visitors need to help them break. "People think it's okay to give them a piece of apple, but fruit ferments in their tummy and can make them quite sick. Dairy is really bad for them. You don't need to give them water, either. They get all the water they need from grasses and plants."
It goes without saying that you should never touch a quokka, and be sure to stay away from mothers and their young. "The mothers can then reject them if they carry the smell of a human," says Knight. Seng says it's best to get your selfie shot and move on to the next beautiful Rottnest vista. "As much fun and Instagram-like worthy having a quokka selfie is, make sure to always be mindful of the animals and humans around you," he says. "No one loves a camera in their face all day, so once you've got the shot, be sure to sit back and enjoy the experience away from the screen!"
And lastly, don't forget to add #quokkaselfie to your pic, and join the global trend.
Quokka on Rottnest Island
Because they're so trusting, care needs to be taken when posing with them for a photo. Using a selfie-stick is a good idea, allowing you to stay a respectful distance. General Manager of Environment on the island, Holly Knight says you don't actually need to approach a quokka – if you sit and wait one will undoubtedly come to you to say hello.
"The easiest place to get a selfie is in the main settlement," she says. "The best time to see them is at 4pm or 5pm. At dusk lots of them come out into the heritage common, a green space where the bakery is. Quokkas love grass."
Knight says the quokkas in the open Thompson Bay areas are the friendliest while others may be camera shy. "We try to stop people from going off the beaten track and into bushes to find a quokka; in doing so they trample some of our native flora or head into snake territory. We advise keeping to the prescribed paths and not approaching the ones out in the reserve because they're very wild and timid."