The famous Rottnest Island quokka is gaining official recognition, with the WA Tourism Minister announcing a national weekend of celebration.
From September 13 to 15, all are invited to the quokka ‘birthday bash,’ with discounted ferry tickets and accommodation, and free entry for children.
The quokka has been the subject of a recent campaign to name the animal as WA’s official state emblem. In lieu of this, Tourism Minister Paul Papalia consulted with the government and tourism operators before announcing the event.
Executive Director of the Rottnest Island Authority, Michelle Reynolds, said there are many quokka-themed and family-orientated events scheduled for the weekend.
Reynolds is already predicting a very high attendance of visitors for the quokka birthday event.
“We’ve had one of our ferries already book 120 tickets and that was just yesterday,” she said. “It was announced yesterday and we’re already having quite a high take up.”
Adam Marshall, CEO of advertising agency Marketforce, said although West Australians may take the quokka for granted, it is a major draw card for interstate and overseas visitors.
“[In] some of the research that we’ve done around tourism for particular target markets, wildlife is one of the key attractions as to why people would choose a destination over another destination,” he said.
“The quokka is becoming the most famous icon in the state.”
Recent celebrity selfies, most notably from Chris Hemsworth and Roger Federer, have helped to propel the quokka to international fame.
Marshall says WA needs to keep taking advantage of our unique wildlife.
“Anything we can do to promote these critters I think is going to help our tourism … Nothing succeeds like fame in advertising,” he said.
Government figures show from 2017 to 2018 there was a 15 per cent increase in tourism to Rottnest. Nearly 770,000 visitors sets a new record for the island, attributed largely to marketing, celebrity visits and quokka selfies.
Reynolds said despite the significance of the quokka as a tourist attraction, the celebration was also about a conservation perspective.
“It’s actually about education. So yes we celebrate the quokka and the contribution to tourism for this state but equally we think this is a great opportunity for us to educate our visitors about the quokka.”
There are currently an estimated 10 – 12000 quokkas on Rottnest, the main sub-population of the species. On the mainland the animal exists in isolated populations and is under localised threat of extinction, resulting in a classification of ‘vulnerable.’
Despite threats such as fires and foxes, the Rottnest Island population has remained relatively stable and is less susceptible to environmental changes.
The September date for the event was deliberately timed to coincide with quokka breeding patterns, which sees joeys first emerging from their mother’s pouches in August and September.
During the weekend birthday celebrations visitors will be encouraged to learn all about the quokka and its unique environment, with facilitators using recent research and quokka-themed activities to inform tourists.