Never let it be said that people will pass up a chance to mug for the camera with a cuddly, fuzzy critter.
The latest selfie craze sweeping the Internet stars the quokka: a brown-furred, cat-size herbivorous native of southwest Australia with the face of a weasel and the body of a (very small) kangaroo.
With shiny dark eyes and a permanent smile, the quokka has a naturally cheerful, sugar-sweet expression. That has proved irresistible to smartphone-toting tourists who visit Rottnest Island off Perth, the capital of Western Australia, where the marsupials have become habituated to humans. (Yes, there is a hashtag—#quokkaselfies.)
But it’s arguable that the trend is a bad one for quokkas, which are listed as a vulnerable species in Australia. The little cuties get sick on many kinds of human food or from an overabundant water supply. It’s illegal to handle them: Feeding quokkas can apparently earn a $300 fine (around USD $230), while attempting to take one home could net a $10,000 penalty, according to The Guardian.
In the 19th century, European settlers hunted quokkas for their fur. The animals also became prey for the cats, dogs, and foxes that the colonialists introduced to the continent.
Today, urban development and habitat fragmentation have reduced mainland quokka populations to small groups that survive largely in nature reserves and national parks. Most quokkas are now found in protected areas offshore: on Bald Island and on Rottnest Island, where about 12,000 quokkas live and where many of the quokka selfies circulating online were taken.