- Field Program
- Wildlife translocations
The Greater Bilby – one of Australia’s most iconic threatened mammals – is set to return to a New South Wales national park after becoming extinct in the state more than 100 years ago.Read more...
Once widespread across semi-arid and arid Australia (occupying around 70% of the continent), the Bilby has disappeared from over 80% of its former range, primarily as a result of feral cats and foxes. The species currently occurs as patchily distributed populations throughout the Tanami (NT) west to Broome and south to Warburton (WA), with isolated populations north of Birdsville in south-western QLD and north-east of Alice Springs, NT.
The species is continuing to decline and is now confined to the driest and least fertile parts of its former distribution.
A quote by Hedley Finlayson describes the Bilby as taking “a number of structural peculiarities to grotesque lengths yet manages to reconcile them all in a surprisingly harmonious and even beautiful whole”. This is quite apt for the bilby: it’s long rabbit-like ears, pointed snout, long hind feet and bicoloured tail create a jumbled mess of charm.
Bilbies are sexually dimorphic, with males reaching up to 2.5kg and females 1.1kg. They have an acute sense of scent and hearing, but very poor eyesight.
Bilbies are solitary and nocturnal, only appearing from their underground burrows after dark. Burrows may be up to 3m in length and 1.8m deep.
Bilbies occur throughout a variety of habitats, from Mitchell grass and stony downs country of cracking clays, to desert sandplains and dunefields. They are opportunistic feeders, with a diet consisting of insects, seeds, bulbs, fruit and fungi. Surface water is rarely available in the Bilby’s habitat, however they derive sufficient water from their food. Feeding in sandy areas is not without its hassles; sand ingested during the foraging process means that the faeces of a bilby may contain anywhere from 20-90% sand.
The species has a high reproductive output and may breed throughout the year. The pouch is backwards facing and contains 8 teats, though is rarely occupied by more than two young.
The primary cause of the decline of the Bilby is predation by feral cats and foxes. Altered fire regimes and competition for resources with introduced herbivores are other key factors.
AWC protects almost 15% of the entire Bilby population (estimated at less than 10,000 animals across Australia). AWC’s Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary protects almost 1,000 wild Bilbies, while another significant wild population occurs at Yookamurra Wildlife Sanctuary. In 2016, AWC reintroduced Bilbies at Mt Gibson, where we expect the population to grow to around 240 animals. We are working with the Queensland and Australian Governments to protect Bilbies at Diamantina and Astrebla National Parks. In the next few years, AWC intends to reintroduce Bilbies at Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary and in the Pilliga and at Mallee Cliffs. Within a decade, AWC properties will protect an estimated 5,000+ Bilbies. The key to our success with Bilbies has been the establishment of massive feral predator-free areas.
On average, each individual Bilby turns over around 20 tonnes of soil each year!
Bilbies have attitude! Their tails sport a “mowhawk” hairstyle of long, stiff hairs, black for the proximal third with a white distal portion, contrasting to the silky soft grey fur on their body. There were once two species of Bilby – the Lesser Bilby (now extinct) and the Greater Bilby, differentiated mostly by their size.