- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

SYDNEY, Australia They are small and round and look like furry footballs and they are being kicked to death by young Australians for fun. The quokka, a species of miniature wallaby found only in Western Australia, has become the renewed target of a sadistic sport called quokka soccer.
Since last Sunday, eight quokkas have been found dead on the seven-mile-long island of Rottnest, apparently kicked or beaten to death. The animals were found on a cricket oval near Thomson Bay Settlement, one of the few villages on Rottnest, a resort island in the Indian Ocean west of Perth.
Quokka soccer began in the 1990s when day-trippers from the mainland began kicking and killing the animals, a protected species, for fun.
Incidences of quokka killings trailed off, and it was hoped that the cruel craze was over, but in November it re-emerged in a variant form: quokka hockey. A 16-year-old schoolboy was given a formal warning after he admitted that he hit one of quokkas, a rabbit-sized marsupial, with a stick.
The police on the island are investigating the latest attacks and say a number of visitors have come forward with information they hope will lead to an arrest.
"Quokka soccer was well-known in the 1990s. People would just walk along and boot them for no reason. It happened quite a lot, but since then we've had very few attacks," said Senior Constable Michael Wear of the island's small police force.
"It's disgraceful. They're very cute little things," he added. Constable Wear said the quokkas are round and furry, and about the size of a soccer ball. Like kangaroos, female quokkas keep their babies in pouches.
Apart from a small colony in the south of Western Australia, quokkas are found nowhere else in the world. Rottnest supports a population of about 10,000. The animals are naturally inquisitive and, disastrous to their survival, largely fearless.
"They wander down the streets, and into cafes and restaurants," Constable Wear said. "You can get right up to them."
In 1996, in response to the cruelties of quokka soccer, the Western Australian government imposed a fine of $5,800 for anyone caught harming them.
The dead quokkas discovered last week were found by maintenance workers, who alerted the island's wildlife rangers. Sallyann Gudge, one of the rangers, said: "I've shed many a tear over the last few days. We are all really shocked and upset about the whole thing. I just don't understand human beings sometimes. I hope and pray that this sort of thing doesn't happen again."
Rottnest ("rat's nest") was named by Dutch explorer Willem de Vlamingh, who discovered the island in 1696 and mistook the quokkas for giant rats. The island was settled by the British in 1831 and was used as a penal colony for Aborigines from 1838 to 1902.
It's known as Rotto by locals, and its sandy beaches and turquoise bays make it a popular weekend getaway destination for people from Perth. Private cars are not allowed, and the island's 500,000 annual visitors get around by foot or bicycle. The quokkas are one of the island's main attractions.

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