There’s been a lot of news coverage about the negative impact that travel can have on the environment and on animal populations lately. However, visiting Rottnest Island in Australia can actually be beneficial for the animals that inhabit the area.
Specifically, taking selfies with the island’s population of quokkas is being encouraged, as the photos being shared on social media are raising awareness of the species and in turn helping to fund quokka research efforts.
These adorable creatures are marsupials in the same family as kangaroos and wallabies, but they only grow to the size of an average house cat. They’ve earned the nickname of the “world’s happiest animals” because they always seem to be smiling, due to the natural curve of their mouths.
Additionally, they’re quite friendly to people so are natural selfie subjects. Michelle Reynolds, who’s the executive director of Rottnest Island, told PEOPLE, “The quokkas are themselves very inquisitive, so they will look at the camera. And I’ve seen them smiling.”
Selfies of the cuties have been trending on Instagram, with a slew of celebrities contributing their own photos to social media. Pictured here is actor Chris Hemsworth in a photo he posted of himself of a surprised-looking quokka. “Got my first quokka selfie this week at @rottnestislandwa,” he wrote. “Epic little creatures are all over the island just cruisin through the day doin their thing. Get there and check it out!” Margot Robbie and Teri Hatcher have also been pictured with quokkas.
All this exposure “has really highlighted and brought to the attention of the world this most amazing mammal and the opportunity to really see them close up, in their natural environment,” says Reynolds.