BILBY (Macrotis Lagotis)
The Bilby, is an endangered animal, belonging to the bandicoot family, in fact they are the largest of the bandicoots. Much research is now being conducted to preserve these precious animals. A breeding program has been introduced, and the last bastion of their habitat has been preserved and fenced to keep out predators. Mostly the introduced feral animals.
An area of 25 square kilometers (10 square miles) is now vermin proofed. There were 2 species of bilbies at one stage, but the Lesser Bilby (Macrotis Leucura) has been extinct since the last sighting in central Australia in 1931.
The remaining bilbies, of which there are two sub species, the Western Bilby (Macrotis Lagotis Lagotis) found in Western Australia and the Northern Territory and the Eastern Bilby (Macrotis Lagotis Sagitta) found only in Queensland. It’s this area in Queensland that has been fenced.
200 years ago, Australia was inhabited by millions of Bilbies, now sadly there are but a few thousand remaining and only 700 of those are in Queensland. Prompting strong support from the people of Australia, a ‘Save The Bilby Fund’ was established, which finances research and preservation practices today.
ABOUT THE BILBY
Bilbies have a blue/grey coloured fur, and are yellow to creamy white on the underside. They have very sharp, strong claws for digging, and a long thin snout.. Their tail is black but has a white clump of fur at the tip. The males are larger than the females, weighing in at between 1.5 to 2 kilograms, (3&1/2 to 4 lbs)the females weigh between 800 grams and 1 kilogram (1 & 1/4 – 2 lbs). They have very distinctive hairless ears, much like those of a rabbit. They have excellent hearing and smell…but their eyesight is very poor.
Being of the marsupial genus, they are nocturnal and they sleep in their burrows, during the day,which they dig in a downward spiral about 2 metres deep.
They can have up to 12 burrows in their territory and can dart into any one of them for protection, even digging another section on the move whilst trying to escape from danger. The entrances are usually concealed by a clump of grass, low bush or at the base of a termite mound.
Although normally solitary animals, they have been known to group together in burrows at times when the necessity arises.
The gestation period of reproduction is very short, only 14 days. They usually give birth to one to three offspring each time and they can breed up to 4 times per year, given the right conditions of food supply. The young are housed in a backward facing pouch, to protect the young from the dirt whilst burrowing. Inside the pouch are nipples which the young feed on, until around the age of 75 to 80 days. After which they become too large for the pouch. They then remain in the nesting burrow for a further 2 weeks. The mother returns periodically at night to feed them.
Once old enough, around 6 months of age, they forage with their parents for a short time before being completely independant.
Bilbies feed on a wide variety of food, ants, termites, grasshoppers, larvae, small seeds, centipedes, bulbs, fruit, beetles and underground fungi. Because their feeding is done amongst the dirt, their faeces contain a lot of sand and grit, in fact, it can be up to 90% sand and grit.
The Bilby plays a significant role in aborigine folklore. The Pintjantjatjarra call the Bilby “Nanu” whilst the Warlpiri call it “Walpajirtri”.
Some aboriginal peoples hunted the Bilby for food, it’s fur and used it’s tail tips as decorations. However they are lending their full support to the research of these beautiful little creatures these days, and their knowledge is invaluable in the efforts to save these docile little animals.
There is also considerable effort by the ‘Save The Bilby Fund’ going into replacing the traditional ‘Easter Bunny’ with the ‘Easter Bilby’ to help bring the plight of the Bilby to the forefront of the public eye and increase support for the cause.