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Can You Have a Quokka as a Pet?

 
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. June 30, 2021
Can You Have a Quokka as a Pet?

The quokka is an animal practically designed for social media. This is because they are adorable. Not only are they cute little mammals, but their morphology gives them an almost human-like smile which is not very common in the animal kingdom. Human interest in quokkas has gone further than simply making viral videos of them. Many have wondered whether we can keep them as pets, similar to how we share our lives with dogs and cats.

At AnimalWised, we ask can you have a quokka as a pet? We share information about their characteristics, behavior and habitat to explain how these affect their viability as a companion animal.

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Taxonomic classification of the quokka

To learn more about curious quokkas, we can start with their taxonomic classification. This allows us to place them among the different subclasses of mammals. An organism's taxonomic classification helps us to know what similarities and differences they have with others. In doing, so we can see why they might be considered good pets.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Edge: Chordates
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Subclass: Theria
  • Infraclass: Marsupialia
  • Order: Diprotodontia
  • Family: Macropodidae
  • Genus: Setonix
  • Species: S. brachyurus

Now that we have taxonomically located the quokka, we should know they are the only species of the genus Setonix. They are, however, in the same family as kangaroos, wallaroos, pademelons, wallabies and others. In fact, although they are not actually a type of wallaby, they are known as short-tailed scrub wallabies by some.

To know more about the differences in marsupials, take a look at our comparison of the kangaroo and the wallaby.

Characteristics of quokkas

Being marsupials, quokka young are born prematurely. They complete their development in the marsupium or marsupial bag, the ‘pouch’ most commonly associated with kangaroos. In this pouch, the young quokka are fed (as are all mammals) via the mammary glands of their mother. Only when are they sufficiently developed will they emerge, but they will return to the marsupium for certain periods.

In terms of movement, quokkas tend to make small jumps when they are running, the same as other macropodid animals like the kangaroo. Quokkas are characterized by having only two incisor teeth in their jaws, meaning they belong to the order of the Diprotodontia, as we saw in their taxonomic classification.

Is the quokka the happiest animal in the world?

The reason this question is asked is due to their facial expression. The natural facial expression of a quokka at rest resembles a human smile. This makes them very photogenic and sparks great intrigue in humans. However, it doesn't affect their levels of happiness and well-being. These are determined by other factors and quokka are not a monolith.

We can say that quokkas are relatively docile animals. They are even relatively tolerant of humans, contributing to the rise of ‘quokka selfies’ and their growing reputation as the happiest animal in the world.

Where do quokkas live?

In order to see quokkas in their natural habitat, we would need to travel to Western Australia. Specifically, we would need to go to islands of Rottnest and Bald, as well as some of their surrounding islands. These areas are so associated with this animal, they are known as the ‘islands of the quokka'.

There, it will be possible to find the quokka in forests made up of eucalyptus trees (Eucalyptus marginata) or marri (Corymbia calophylla), and riparian habitats dominated by reeds, low scrub and heathland. They can also be found in the interior of swamps and wetlands where the tea tree (Taxandria linearifolia) is abundant.

Behavior of quokkas

Quokka are land animals that tend to be social. Not only can they tolerate human interaction, but they have been known to approach humans in their natural habitat in a curious way. In addition to being social with humans, they are also social with other individuals of their species as they prefer to live in groups.

Additionally, the quokka tend to stay in their natural island habitats throughout the year, without having to move around following migrations to find better climatic conditions. This is because all of their necessary resources should be present in the native habitats.

Quokka diet

When it comes to feeding, Quokka prefer to follow nocturnal habits, as they are a nocturnal animal. They follow a herbivorous diet, as do all marsupial species. They chew leaves, grasses and twigs of the forests, bushes and wetlands in which they inhabit to obtain their nutrients.

They take advantage of the plant nutrients they are unable to digest by slowing down their metabolism. This allows them to consume a smaller amount of food to assimilate without any problem. This is common to other marsupials, as well animals like the panda bear.

Another animal people want to keep at home is the otter. You can learn if this is wise in our article on can you keep an otter as a pet?

Reproduction of quokka

Quokka are marsupial animals and, therefore, viviparous following sexual reproduction. However, they have some distinction within viviparity. Since they lack a placenta, the embryos are born earlier in their development.

The solution to these premature births is based on the use of the marsupium or marsupial bag. As soon as they are born, the youngsters crawl through the marsupium until they reach the mammary glands or nipples. The young quokka is known as a joey, as are kangaroo and wallaby young.

Although the quokka will protect their young, adult females have been known to throw their joey out of the marsupium when pursued by predators. The bleating the joey makes distracts the predators so the adult can make an escape.

Conservation status of the quokka

The current quokka population is declining, with the species listed in the vulnerable (VU) conservation status, according to the IUCN Red List. The total population ranges between 7,500 and 15,000 adult individuals. This population is severely fragmented, mainly due to the fact that they live on islands.

Numerous conservation studies of the quokka point to the importance of identifying potential refuges for this vulnerable species. These are areas in which studies predict the species could continue depending on environmental conditions and risks. These provide management strategies that allow protecting these areas from threats.

These threats to the survival of the quokka include the displacement they suffer from their natural habitats, influenced by the use of biological resources by neighboring human populations. This is mainly through activities such as logging and timber harvesting. Also, the stalking of fox populations, one of its main predators, which prevents the rates of quokka individuals from increasing despite their relatively high reproduction rates.

Can You Have a Quokka as a Pet? - Conservation status of the quokka

Can we keep quokkas as pets?

Some people may think the threat to quokkas in the wild suggests they might make good pets. Since they can be relatively comfortable around humans, this does not mean they are domesticated. Also, not all quokka will tolerate human interaction. They can be quite aggressive and there are numerous cases per year of quokka biting humans. This can be particularly hazardous for children.

Human interaction in the wild can stress out quokka. People taking animal selfies with the quokka can upset their food cycles, rest and mating due to the stress it causes. Not only this, but quokka are nocturnal. They need to interact and carry out behaviors during the night.

Quokkas are not domesticated, so removing them from the wild and keeping them as a pet is cruel. As social animals, you will be taking them away from their group. You will also be limiting their freedom and taking them away from the places they love. They cannot be trained and any attempt to do so will cause the animal suffering which can be avoided.

Finally, if the above is not sufficient to show you we shouldn't keep quokkas as pets, then the fact it is illegal to do so should. If anyone is trading in quokkas as pets, they are doing so illegally. They cannot be taken from their native habitat (with some exceptions for wildlife organizations and conservationists). Quokkas should be allowed to live in the wild where they belong. If you consider keeping a quokka as a pet, we advise making a contribution to their conservation instead.

If you want to read similar articles to Can You Have a Quokka as a Pet?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

Bibliography
  • Hayward, M; de Torres, P; Dillon, MJ & Fox, BJ (2003) Local population structure of a naturally occurring metapopulation of the quokka ( Setonix brachyurus Macropodidae: Marsupialia). Science Direct: Biological Conservation , Volume 110 (3), pp: 343.355. Recovered from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320702002409
  • Wilson, E. & Reeder, DM (2005). 'Setonix brachyurus'. Mammal Species of the World (3rd ed.). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press , Volume 2. https://www.departments.bucknell.edu/biology/resources/msw3/browse.asp?id=11000300
  • e Torres, P., Burbidge, A., Morris, K. & Friend, T. (2008). 'Setonix brachyurus' IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Recovered from: https://www.iucnredlist.org/species/20165/166611530

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