News from the Field

Bilbies make historic return to the Pilliga

04 Dec. 2018
© Wayne Lawler/AWC

AWC reached a historic milestone last night with the release of the first Bilbies into the Pilliga, as part of our groundbreaking partnership with the New South Wales Government. Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton, who attended the release, said it was the first step towards restoring locally extinct mammals to the state.

“The Bilbies are the first of 13 regionally extinct mammals that will be returned to the wild in the 10-year NSW Government Saving our Species project,” Ms Upton said. “The return of the Bilby is internationally significant; this is a major victory in the campaign to save our species from extinction,” she said.

The last record of a Bilby in NSW was near Wagga Wagga in 1912. Since then, AWC has re-established a wild population of Bilbies within an 8,000 hectare, feral predator-free area at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary in far western New South Wales. Due to predation by cats and foxes, conservation fences are currently the only effective strategy for protecting Bilbies and other small to medium-sized native mammals from extinction.

 

Fieldupdate Bilbypilliga Awc 800 Bilbydistribution J1915t © AWC

 

A 5,800-hectare feral predator-free fenced area, constructed over four months in early 2018, is a landmark feature of AWC’s partnership with NSW National Parks in the Pilliga. The establishment of the fenced area will enable six locally extinct mammals to be reintroduced to the Pilliga: Bilby, Western Quoll, Western Barred Bandicoot, Brush-tailed Bettong, Bridled Nailtail Wallaby and Plains Mouse.

© Wayne Lawler/AWC © Wayne Lawler/AWC

AWC staff from across southern Australia were involved in the complex translocation effort. A team of more than 20 ecologists were deployed spotlighting and catching Bilbies at Scotia Wildlife Sanctuary – the source population for this initial translocation. Bilbies were transported by special charter flight to Narrabri, where the Pilliga team were waiting to receive them in an air-conditioned vehicle. Some of the Bilbies were fitted with GPS-enabled radio transmitters and then all of them were then transferred to the release site in the Pilliga. After darkness fell, the Bilbies were gently released from their bags and hopped out into the shadows among the cypress pines and ironbarks. Tonight, these pioneering Bilbies in the Pilliga will continue settling in to their new home, digging burrows, foraging for food and getting to know each other better.

It has taken a huge effort to get to this point and AWC acknowledges the mammoth achievement of our operations and science teams that have worked tirelessly on this historic project in cooperation with NSW National Parks staff. Within 12 months, the team has constructed a 32.1 kilometre fence, eradicated feral predators within the specially constructed breeding area and reintroduced Bilbies. We anticipate that in a few years’ time the Pilliga will support a population of 850 Bilbies, representing about 10 per cent of the remaining global Bilby population, along with five other regionally extinct species including the Bridled Nailtail Wallaby, Brush-tailed Bettong and Western Barred Bandicoot.

 

 

This major achievement was made possible thanks to AWC’s generous supporters and the NSW Government.

 

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