Australia wants you to stop taking wombat selfies

Lilit Marcus, CNNUpdated 16th January 2019
wombat maria island tasmania
(CNN) — Australia is home to some of the world's creepiest creatures (drop bears, anyone?), but it's also home to some of the cutest.
Maria Island, just off the eastern coast of Tasmania, is inhabited by a large number of wombats, the adorable marsupials known for their resemblance to teddy bears -- and their mysterious cube-shaped poo.
And because of their outrageous cuteness factor, combined with the fact that they have generally docile personalities, wombats have become the must-have selfie accessory for visitors to Maria Island.
Now, anyone who goes to Maria Island -- which has no permanent human residents aside from park rangers -- will be greeted with signs encouraging them to pledge to be a respectful traveler.
The Maria Island Pledge reads: "I take this pledge to respect and protect the furred and feathered residents of Maria. I will remember you are wild and pledge to keep you this way.
I promise I will respectfully enjoy the wonders of your beautiful island home, from the wharf, to the Painted Cliffs, to the Rocky bluffs, haunted bays and mystery of Maria's ruins.
Chris Hemsworth sits down with CNN Travel to talk about his "Crocodile Dundee"-themed Super Bowl ad and why he moved his family from L.A. back to Australia.
Wombats, when you trundle past me I pledge I will not chase you with my selfie stick, or get too close to your babies. I will not surround you, or try and pick you up. I will make sure I don't leave rubbish or food from my morning tea. I pledge to let you stay wild.
I vow to explore with a sense of responsibility, adventure and kindness. I will leave your wild island as I found it, and take home memories filled with beauty and my soul filled up with wonder."
"As a state, we do a lot of education through our national parks, but there are parts of Tasmania where the animals are not as approachable," John Fitzgerald, the CEO of Tasmania Tourism, tells CNN Travel. "We're asking people to respect the fact that they're wild animals and respect them for what they are."
However, Fitzgerald notes that the pledge -- which no one has to sign -- is more about getting people into a respectful mindset.
"There was no particular incident that occurred; it's just seeing an increased activity and people wanting to have photos of animals and get up close to them. We're in the age of the selfie, and people want to take selfies in different locations and with people and animals."
And these kinds of pledges aren't reserved for Australia. In New Zealand, the "tiaki promise" began in 2018 as a way to encourage all visitors to the country to be respectful of the environment.
Maria Island is a national park, meaning there are strict regulations to protect its natural beauty.
In addition to wombats, the island is home to the ruins of one of Australia's first penal colonies. To get there, take a ferry from Triabunna, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of Tasmania's capital of Hobart.
If you just can't stomach the idea of going all the way to Australia and not hugging a wombat, there is a way to do it without running afoul of local customs.
The Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary in the charmingly named town of Mole Creek, Tasmania, does offer travelers the opportunity to pick up and hold rescue wombats that have been raised to be comfortable with people.