Brighter prospects for Australia’s Bilbies
Australia’s very own ‘Easter Bunny’ – the endangered Greater Bilby – has become a symbol for threatened wildlife across the country. Its cousin, the Lesser Bilby, is already extinct. Predation by feral cats and foxes has driven Greater Bilby populations to the edge – but there is hope! AWC is halting the decline of the Bilby and restoring their populations at five feral-free locations in three Australian states.
Bilbies are burrowing ‘ecosystem engineers’. Their digging and foraging activities help to turn the soil, facilitating seed dispersion and retaining moisture in otherwise arid areas.
If you are digging in your garden this Easter, spare a thought for the Bilby: weighing just 1-2.5 kilograms, an individual Bilby will turn an average of 20 tonnes of soil per annum – that’s around 200 wheelbarrow loads every year!
© Wayne Lawler/AWC- Bilbies play a vital role in maintaining ecosystem health.
Though they were once common, few Bilby populations survive in the wild. AWC is helping to change the fortunes of this iconic mammal by rebuilding wild populations across a network of vast feral predator-free areas.
It’s a model that’s working: AWC now protects 10-15% of the estimated global population of Bilbies. AWC’s projects to establish new wild populations is expected to see the global Bilby population increase by up to 40% – or around 5,000 Bilbies.
So far, we have reintroduced Bilbies to feral predator-free fenced areas at:
Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary;
Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary;
Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary;
Pilliga State Conservation Area (Pilliga); and, most recently
Mallee Cliffs National Park (Mallee Cliffs).
Last October, AWC reintroduced 50 Bilbies to Mallee Cliffs. These were the first to gallop (yes, Bilbies gallop!) on NSW Mallee Cliffs lands in more than nine decades.
The reintroductions to Mallee Cliffs in 2019 and the Pilliga (commencing in 2018), were undertaken in partnership with the New South Wales Government’s National Parks & Wildlife Service as part of its Saving our Species program.
The successful return of Bilbies to NSW National Parks after an absence of more than 90 years represents a major milestone for conservation.
© Wayne Lawler/AWC - AWC’s translocation program is set to increase the global population of Bilbies by up to 40% – or around 5,000 Bilbies.
AWC’s field ecologists rigorously monitor the reintroduced animals. Four months after the translocation, the survival rate of the reintroduced Bilbies at Mallee Cliffs is high (90%!).
The Bilbies are busy digging deep burrows and foraging throughout the Mallee. Founders from Thistle Island and Scotia have gained weight. Captive bred founders have lost a little weight, which is to be expected as they adjust to life in the wild. It’s still early days but there are positive signs of breeding.
Overall, the Bilbies are adjusting well and we are optimistic about their future.
© Wayne Lawler/AWC - AWC protects more endangered Bilbies than any other non-government organisation.
Bilbies are the first of 10 nationally threatened mammals to be reintroduced to Mallee Cliffs and the Pilliga under our partnership with the NSW Government.
Over the next few years, AWC plans to return Bridled Nailtail Wallabies, Greater Stick-nest Rats, Numbats, Brush-tailed Bettongs, Red-tailed Phascogales and Western Barred Bandicoots to a vast 9,570 hectare cat-free fenced area at Mallee Cliffs. This will be the largest feral-free area on mainland Australia – eclipsing AWC’s Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in central Australia where Bilbies are also set to be returned.
Happy Easter from the whole team at AWC – including the Easter Bilbies.