#ThreatenedSpecies of the Week: The Greater Bilby

Macrotis lagotis, more commonly known as the Greater Bilby, is listed as Vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC) and also as Vulnerable under the Wildlife Conservation Act 1950.

 Bilbies are members of a group of ground-dwelling marsupials known as Bandicoots. Bilbies have long pointed snouts and compact bodies. They measure between 29 and 55cm in length and differ from other Bandicoots by their larger ears, long silky fur and longer tails.

Bilbies are remarkable burrowers, using their strong forelimbs and claws to build extensive tunnels. One Bilby may make up to twelve burrows within its home range to use for shelter.

They have long slender tongues that they use to eat a specialised diet of seeds, insects, bulbs, fruit and fungi. Bilbies are active at night, sheltering in their burrows during the daytime.

The Greater Bilby. Picture: Department of Environment
The Greater Bilby. Picture: Department of Environment

Bilbies used to be common in many habitats throughout Australia, from the dry interior to temperate coastal regions. However the Bilby population across Australia has suffered a catastrophic decline in the last 150 years and it is now extinct across 80% of its former range.

Predation by foxes and cats is the biggest threat to their existence. Loss of habitat and competition with domestic stock, as well as changing fire patterns, all have a negative impact on their numbers. Rabbits also compete directly with Bilbies for their food and burrows.

The current Bilby population is estimated to be less than 10,000 animals, and they are now confined to small, isolated populations in the driest and least fertile regions of arid Australia.

There is a national recovery plan in place with key actions including:

  • managing the Bilby’s remaining habitat;
  • breeding in captivity;
  • monitoring existing populations; and
  • re-establishing Bilbies in areas where they previously occurred.

In December last year, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC) carried out a translocation of 16 Bilbies from their Scotia sanctuary in NSW, to their Mt Gibson Wildlife Sanctuary in WA (within our NAR region!). It is historic because it represents the return of the species to south-western Australia after an absence of several decades.

Mt Gibson contains the largest feral predator-free area on mainland Western Australia (7800 hectares, comprising 43km of fencing). An additional 20 – 30 animals are scheduled for release in 2017 at Mt Gibson in partnership with WA National Parks and Wildlife and the Zoo and Aquarium Association.

The AWC hope to increase the Bilby population by 6% (600 animals) through this project at Mt Gibson.

SIDE NOTE:

Awareness of the plight of the Bilby has increased over the last few years, and you may have noticed chocolate bilbies for sale alongside the more traditional chocolate Easter bunnies. Well we think that’s a great idea – especially when some of the profits go towards conservation efforts.

Happy Easter – and remember #bilbiesnotbunnies

Information source: Government of Australia, Department of Environment and Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC).

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