Quokka (setonix brachyurus), Rottnest Island, Western Australia © Bluebottle Films / WWF-Aus

Quokka (setonix brachyurus), Rottnest Island, Western Australia © Bluebottle Films / WWF-Aus

THE MISSING QUOKKAS: New analysis reveals devastating impact of 2015 bushfire on iconic little Aussie

07 Sep 2016

Keywords
  • fire
  • quokka
  • western australia

To mark National Threatened Species Day (7 September), WWF-Australia today releaseda new analysis of the devastating impact of the 2015 Northcliffe bushfire on a key population of quokkas, with up to 90% of the animals now missing from the area.



The quokka is perhaps best known as the unofficial mascot of Rottnest Island off Perth in Western Australia, where they are plentiful and are known to pose for “quokka selfies”.

However, Rottnest is one of their last refuges. The quokka was once widespread on the mainland, but since European settlement, more than half their range has been lost. The southern forests of Western Australia now support the most extensive quokka population on the mainland.

In 2015, an intense bushfire ripped through nearly 100,000 hectares of quokka habitat near Northcliffe.  Prior to the fire, this bushland was home to more than 500 quokkas.


In the aftermath of the fires, WWF-Australia undertook a supporter-funded survey of the area to get a clearer picture of the impact of the fires on the quokkas.

The survey analysis, released today, has found that of the more than 500 quokkas originally thought to be living in the area, only 39 could now be accounted for.

Before the fire, there were 43 sites known to be home to quokkas, but the survey reveals that only 10 of these are still able to support the animals. Most of the surviving quokka sites are located in the unburnt area on the edge of the fire.

While many quokkas perished in the fire it is hoped that some survived by fleeing to unburnt areas surrounding the fire zone. Evidence suggests that populations in surrounding areas have increased, giving conservationists some hope that members of the colony remain in the area. 



Ecologist Dr Karlene Bain, who worked on the analysis, said the fire area has the potential to be repopulated by quokkas.

“There are some quokkas currently taking refuge in small patches inside the fire area,” Dr Bain said.

“These patches can act as “stepping stones” for recolonisation of the fire area.

“But as the surrounding area has been severely burnt, the surviving quokkas are highly vulnerable to predators and other threats, so active management of the area is needed to help them survive.”

Merril Halley, Species Conservation Manager with WWF, said that there is hope for the area’s quokkas.

“WWF supporters are now investing in radio collars and sensor cameras - so we can accurately pinpoint where the quokkas are living, and where they are travelling to,” Ms Halley said.

“We need to target efforts to control feral predators, which have become a bigger problem because the protective bush has now been burnt out.

“With better information, we can better protect the remaining quokkas from predators and protect their habitat from feral pigs.

“With the right information and tools, we can help these quokkas recover,” she said.

WWF-Australia Media Contact: Daniel Rockett, Senior Manager News and Public Affairs, 0432 206 592, drockett@wwf.org.au

 

Donate to Save Quokkas

To fund the purchase of the radio collars and sensor cameras WWF-Australia’s conservation team needs to protect the vulnerable quokkas of Northcliffe, an appeal has been set up. More information can be found here: wwf.org.au/savequokkas

 

About National Threatened Species Day

Threatened Species Day is a national day held each year on 7 September to commemorate the death of the last remaining Tasmanian tiger (also known as the thylacine) at Hobart Zoo in 1936. The first Threatened Species Day was held in 1996 and was a concept developed by the Threatened Species Network, a community based program of WWF-Australia and the Commonwealth Government's Natural Heritage Trust, as a way to showcase Australian threatened species. Threatened Species Day aims to encourage greater community support and hands-on involvement in the prevention of further losses of Australia's unique natural heritage.

 

About Quokkas

The quokka (Setonix brachyurus) is a marsupial and one of Australia’s smallest wallabies. Listed as vulnerable under the EPBC 1999 and the IUCN Red List, the quokka, which was once broadly distributed across the south west of Western Australia is now only found in isolated pockets in the southern forests and two island communities, including a robust and world-famous colony on Rottnest Island. The main threats to quokkas are loss of habitat and introduced predators such as foxes, cats and feral pigs.

© Sian Breen / WWF-Aus

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Quokka (setonix brachyurus), Rottnest Island, Western Australia © Bluebottle Films / WWF-Aus