First Bilby baby in a NSW National Park in more than a century

November 27, 2019

Recent monitoring of the population of Bilbies that were released into the Pilliga last December has revealed a new addition  – a female.

 

The healthy sub-adult female was one of the animals trapped over four nights by a team of AWC ecologists.

 

As part of the NSW Government’s Saving our Species program, AWC translocated a total of 60 Bilbies – one of Australia’s most iconic threatened mammals – to the Pilliga in December 2018, after going locally extinct in that state more than 100 years ago. These animals were microchipped before being released into part of the 5,800 hectare feral predator-free area which was constructed over four months. Their return to the public estate is a powerful demonstration of our ability to work together to turn back the tide of extinctions in Australia.

 

Since their release, AWC ecologists have been monitoring the progress of the Bilbies through a combination of spotlighting, trapping and remote cameras.

 

Seven Bilbies were detected by spotlighting, and a further four were trapped over four nights. Despite prevailing hot and dry conditions, the Bilbies appear to be thriving – all the animals that were recaptured had put on weight and were in better condition since release.

 

Among the animals trapped during the first night of the survey was our new female, who did not have a microchip. Due to her age, she most likely was in the pouch of one of the translocated females.

The Bilbies have settled well into their new environment, within days each digging a burrow (up to 3 metres deep) in the sandy soil. The landscape has been quickly transformed by small foraging pits and burrows – the Bilbies living up to their moniker of ‘ecological engineers’.

 

This frenetic activity by our native diggers has not been seen in a NSW national park for more than 100 years (Bilbies were last seen in NSW in 1912). Once widespread across much of Australia, predation by feral cats and foxes and competition with feral herbivores, like rabbits, have seen Bilby populations collapse.

 

AWC’s network of fenced safe-havens now protects 15 per cent of the global population of Bilbies and are providing important source populations of Bilbies for rewilding efforts, like this one in the Pilliga. Our historic partnership with the NSW Government to establish a fenced area here in the Pilliga is critical for restoring the State’s natural capital and securing the future of the species.

 

AWC’s partnership with NSW National Parks at Pilliga and Mallee Cliffs includes implementing a framework for measuring ecological health and improving conservation land management, as well as establishing a large feral predator-free haven in each national park. The project will see up to 10 native mammal species currently listed as extinct in NSW returned to the State. (Stay tuned for an update from Mallee Cliffs, where construction is due to begin shortly on the predator-proof fence).

 

Establishing a field operations base for staff working on-site is the next priority for AWC. This on-ground infrastructure will be a critical base for AWC’s field staff conducting ecological monitoring – over 15,000 trap nights per year are carried out in the Pilliga alone under this project – as well as implementing a suite of land management services across the Pilliga site, covering approximately 35,000 hectares.

 

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