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Close encounters with Western Australia’s wildlife

From the greenest forests to the richest reefs, Western Australia’s diverse landscapes harbour the animals you’d expect — and a few you wouldn’t

Close encounters with Western Australia’s wildlife
Quokkas, Rottnest Island. Image: Getty

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1. Thorny devil lizards
Dimensions: These spiky little terrors can grow up to 20cm in length.
Where to see one: Right across Western Australia, especially in sandy areas. You have to be lucky as their camouflage is excellent.
Trivia: The thorny devil lizard has a false head which it presents to predators, as well as the most fabulous Latin name — take a bow,
Moloch horridus.

2. Quokka
Dimensions: They’re about 45cm from nose to tail and off the charts when it comes to cuteness.
Where to see one: Rottnest Island. They can be found all over the island, with the habitat supporting a population of 10,000-12,000 — the largest concentration in Western Australia.
Trivia: Quokkas are survivors. They can even tolerate drinking seawater during lengthy droughts.

3. Numbat
Dimensions: Between 35-45cm long. Bigger than a rat, smaller than a cat.
Where to see one: These marsupials are said to number less than 1,000 in the wild. Head to the Perth Zoo to see one in the flesh or to Fremantle, where there’s a 25-metre numbat painted on a wall on Henderson Street.
Trivia: In 1973, the WA government adopted the numbat as a state emblem to help save it from extinction.

4. Kangaroo
Dimensions: A kangaroo is defined as any bounding marsupial with rear feet at least 25cm long. Smaller species are called wallabies.
Where to see one: The animal that defines a nation is common all across Western Australia, bar The Kimberley.
Trivia: The kangaroo can’t walk backwards. It’s featured on the Australian coat of arms — moving forwards and never backwards.

5. Manta ray
Dimensions: The reef manta is usually around 3.5 metres across; in deeper waters, the oceanic manta can reach a whopping seven metres.
Where to see one: Sub-tropical and tropical waters around WA. The waters of the Ningaloo Reef are frequented year-round by the graceful reef manta.
Trivia: Manta rays have the biggest brain-to-body weight ratio of any fish.

6. Whale shark
Dimensions: These gentle giants, the world’s largest fish, grow to around nine metres and weigh 10 tons. The biggest recorded was 12 metres and 21 tons.
Where to see one: Whale sharks filter-feed off Ningaloo Reef from around March to August.
Trivia: Each whale shark’s dot pattern is unique. Australian scientists use a NASA star-mapping algorithm to identify and record individual sharks.

7. Humpback whale
Dimensions: This giant can grow to 18 metres and 45 tons.
Where to see one: From May to December, humpbacks ply the whole coast of WA on their way to breed in the Kimberley, before returning in the spring on their way back to Antarctica.
Trivia: When humpback whaling was banned in 1963, numbers were in the hundreds; today, WA waters thrive with 30,000 annually.

Published in the Western Australia guide, free with the May 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)