Presented by

The Atlantic Selects

The Happiest Animal

Jan 04, 2019 | 708 videos
Video by David Freid

On Rottnest Island, off the coast of western Australia, a peculiar marsupial has captivated the hearts of Instagram users worldwide—and supported a booming tourism economy. The quokka, a close cousin of the kangaroo, rocketed to internet fame when tourists began taking selfies with the animal, which is unafraid of humans and appears to smile for pictures.


“They are like living teddy bears,” filmmaker David Freid, who made a short documentary about the mammals and the attendant social-media sensation, told The Atlantic. “When you see one, it's a bonafide heart-melter.”


Freid said he had made enough films about “important” subjects and needed a reprieve from working with heavy material. “As a fan of absurdity, and the lengths to which us humans will go to achieve it, this seemed like as good a topic as any for a film,” he said. “And, I think, if a quokkumentary were to be made, we were the team to do it.”


According to National Geographic, rottnest is Dutch for “rat’s nest,” named by a “Dutch sea captain who observed the animals there in the early 1700s and dubbed them ‘a kind of rat as big as a common cat.’” While on the island, Freid saw many tourists attempting to take selfies with the creature, which is considered vulnerable to extinction due to its disappearing habitats.


“I learned just how far people would go to get a good, unique selfie,” Freid said. “An entire economy of social-media influencers have to churn out an alarming number of increasingly interesting selfies in order to keep the attention of their followers.”


“But I'm not judgmental about this,” he added. “We all do what we can to get by.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Author: Emily Buder

About This Series

A showcase of cinematic short documentary films, curated by The Atlantic.