Until recently, many people outside of Australia had never heard of the Quokka, a Muppet-cute (despite its beady eyes and rat's tail) marsupial with an irresistible smile. So what's the story behind the quokka, whose chronic grin earned it the moniker "happiest animal in the world" a couple of years back?
First off, the animal, preferring thick vegetation, inhabits island swamps and thickets off the coast of West Australia—mainly on Rottnest Island and Bald Island—as well as eucalyptus forests and riverbanks on the mainland.
It's these Rottnest Island animals that don't seem to mind posing for pictures with squealing tourists. Marsupial expert Yegor Malaschichev, a zoologist at St. Petersburg State University in Russia, sees no harm in snapping photos with quokkas—but he warns not to touch them, which is illegal. (That also means no hugging the animals, no matter how huggable they seem.) Even more important, Malaschichev said, is not to feed the quokkas, especially "what we think they may like to eat."