We asked Kevin Bradley, save the bilby fund director and ceo, for some vital stats on our furry desert friends.
What is a bilby?
The greater bilby is the last surviving species of arid bandicoot we have left here in Australia.
They are superbly adapted to the dry, hot areas of our outback.
Sadly, this iconic little marsupial has suffered a massive decline.
Here in Queensland their numbers are critically low and they have disappeared from 99 per cent of the area they once occupied.
What caused their decline?
Effectively, we humans did!
When Europeans first came to Australia they brought with them animals like the red fox, cats, pigs and goats to name just a few.
These animals have now established themselves in our landscape and are wreaking havoc on our beautiful and unique native animals.
The bilby’s decline has predominantly been through predation by the millions of feral cats and foxes and through competing with billions of introduced rabbits for resources, including food and burrows.
The bilby and its ancestors have been around for about 25 million years and we’ve all but wiped them out in 200 years.
It’s an absolute tragedy that we have to address.
Where do the bilbies live now?
Bilbies were once found across 70 per cent of Australia but are now just hanging on in our deserts in parts of north-western Australia and far western Queensland.
That’s some of our harshest country, where the cats and foxes find it hard to survive.
How is the bilby adapted to live in these arid conditions?
Bilbies are true masters of survival in the outback.
They stay underground during the day in their burrows that keep relatively cool as outside temperatures soar into the mid-40s and higher.
Maybe that’s where the townspeople of Coober Pedy got the idea of living underground.
They don’t need to drink water to survive and their oversized ears act like a car radiator to help them shed heat.
They’ve also got one of the shortest pregnancies of any mammal on the planet – less than a fortnight – so they can reproduce over a short period and up to four times a year.
They are independent and can breed at the age of six to eight months.
What work are you doing to combat the animal’s decline?
Out at Currawinya National Park we have a predator exclusion fence where we’ll be reintroducing bilbies again soon.
This forms part of an extremely important insurance population to mitigate the risk of extinction in the wild until feral cats and foxes can be better controlled.
These animals are managed to ensure we maximise gene flow and will be used as a source of bilbies to eventually release back into the wild.
This will support remnant wild populations and re-establish new ones where they once occurred, such as Currawinya in far south-western Queensland.
We run the Charleville Bilby Experience as well as many formal and informal presentations to a wide audience.
These increase awareness and educate the public about bilbies and what’s happening to our environment.
The bilbies we look after are also part of a national bilby breeding program and we work in partnership with the state, Australian governments and a range of other key stakeholders.
We are all part of a National Bilby Recovery Team and have committed to a unified approach to bilby conservation where Save the Bilby Fund currently co-ordinates the recovery effort.
What can we expect at the Charleville Bilby Experience? Will we be able to meet these nocturnal animals?
People will see and learn lots about these fascinating creatures and what is being done to save them.
We have a nocturnal house so you can see them moving about in daylight hours.
You can even get up-close and personal and meet them in the keeper’s arms.
That’s a unique part of the experience and something people will never forget.
It’s a newly renovated facility in the historic Charleville Railway Station so it’s really easy to find.
The Westlander long distance train even takes you straight to the door.
In what ways can the public help the bilby?
A most effective way to help is by direct donation to Save the Bilby Fund.
That way your money goes straight to bilby conservation.
You can also help the fund by buying bilbies not bunnies at Easter, purchasing merchandise from our online store or, of course, visiting the Charleville Bilby Experience.
You can join in the celebrations for National Bilby Day on 10 September when Charleville goes bilby crazy for the weekend, helping us fundraise with the Bilby Festival and Fur Ball.
It’s a great way to support Charleville and our work out there with bilbies.
You could become a citizen scientist and be part of our Bilby Tracks program out at Currawinya and assist researchers with habitat surveys and other activities needed to prepare for bilby re-introductions inside the Bilby Fence.
But really it’s all about spreading the word about bilbies and their plight.
It’s up to all of us to do our bit before we lose another of our very special animals … Extinction is forever.
Want to know more about Australia’s Nature? Check out our 10 ways to explore Australia like a naturalist.