AUSTRALIA – The 2015 Northcliffe fire in the state’s south-west destroyed 100,000 hectares of forest and its estimated quokka numbers dropped from 500 to just 39.
The species is listed as vulnerable and has been in a steady decline over the past decades, but surveys by World Wildlife Fund and the WA Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions have found quokkas have returned to the fire-ravaged area.
“We’ve just repeated the surveys that we did in the first year following the fires so across 126 sites,” Species Conservation Manager for WWF Australia Merril Halley said.
“Now we can estimate that there’s at least over 300 individuals across the north-west fire area which is fantastic.”
While not all quokkas have returned to all of the fire affected bushland, Ms Halley said the signs are promising.
“I think it’s good news, given the extent of the fire and the severity of the fire, that quokkas have been able to recolonise the area really quickly,” she said.
Baiting and remote sensor cameras have been installed to help protect the marsupials from predators.
“The department has done extra baiting after the fire, so they are continuing to do that,” Ms Halley said.
Every quokka is precious
During the March surveying period a baby quokka was found abandoned by its mother and is currently being rehabilitated at the Maroo Wildlife Refuge, east of Manjimup.
Glen Burston, who co-founded the refuge, said ‘Averil’ will be cared for until she can be released.
“Because of the low populations that are down there now it’s the upmost important that she does go back into the wild,” he said.
“She’s a breeding female and she’ll be at breeding age when she is released, so it’s imperative to get those numbers back up to where they were prior to 2015.”
The Forgotten Quokka
This population surge in Northcliffe is in stark contrast to the overall declining quokka population, but Mr Burston said most people are not even aware quokkas are found on mainland WA.
Quokkas are famous on tourist hotspot Rottnest Island, with a recent ‘selfie’ of tennis star Roger Federer and a quokka seen by more than 500 million people on social media site Instagram.
The quokkas are the same species as their mainland cousins, but have adapted to tourists, by feeding during the day and allowing humans to get close enough for a photo.
Ms Halley said it is hard to care about the mainland nocturnal quokka if people do not even know they exist.
“The mainland quokkas are really important, and they’ve disappeared from over 50 per cent of their range,” she said.
“People not only don’t know they’re here, but they don’t know that we’ve seen a huge decline in quokkas because of habitat and because of predators.
“They are actually a lot more genetically diverse than the Rottnest quokka, even though they are quite likeable for their selfie opportunities.”