The Bilby: a case study
Bilbies have long pointed snouts, small compact bodies, large ears, long silky fur and long tails.
They are remarkable burrowers, using their strong forelimbs and claws to dig extensive tunnels. One bilby may make up to twelve burrows within its home range to use for shelter. They are active at night, sheltering in their burrows during the daytime. They have long slender tongues and eat a specialised diet of seeds, insects, bulbs, fruit and fungi.
Bilbies breed throughout the year and the females usually have two young in their pouch at any time. Bilbies stay in the pouch for about 80 days after they are born, and continue to be suckled by the mother for another two weeks after they become too big for the pouch.
Where are they found?
The bilby is unique to Australia. A hundred years ago, bilbies were common in many places throughout Australia. Changes to bilby habitats have seen their numbers greatly reduced. Today, they are only found in small populations in the:
- Tanami Desert of the Northern Territory
- Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts, and the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia
- Mitchell Grasslands of southwest Queensland.
What are the threats?
Scientists generally agree that bilby populations have been reduced by a combination of:
- predation by introduced foxes and cats
- changes to bilby habitat caused by farming and land clearing
- competition for food from cattle, sheep and rabbits
- competition for burrows from rabbits
- changes in fire regimes (both Indigenous and European).
What is happening?
The bilby is now protected throughout Australia wherever it occurs. A national recovery plan is being developed to ensure the bilby's survival. Key actions include:
- managing the remaining habitat of the bilby
- captive breeding programs
- monitoring existing populations
- re-establishing bilbies in areas where they previously occurred.
The ‘Save the Bilby’ project, based in Charleville in Queensland, is building a predator-proof enclosure surrounding part of a national park, and reintroducing bilbies into far western Queensland. Other activities are recorded throughout Australia.
Restoring the Bilby population would help to show that our efforts to reduce the impact of introduced species and past farming practices have had some success.