• Janice

Visit the Bilby: Australia's Overlooked Marsupial

Updated: Nov 7

An enormous banner of three cute Greater Bilbies greeted us at Charleville railway station. This was my introduction to the Greater Bilby. Yes, I've read wildlife books and visited Australian zoos yet somehow this amazingly cute creature escaped me. I've found a grassroots initiative to bring back the Bilby where tourist dollars provide much needed assistance. Read on and discover:

Derek with Charlievilles Bilby Banner

Australian Marsupials

Continental Australia is surrounded by ocean isolating its creatures, that over millennia have developed into the unique species we see today. The Bilby is a native Australian mammal that, like all mammals, feeds its young on milk. Bilby belongs to a group of mammals known as marsupials. This means Bilby gives birth to underdeveloped babies who then suckle in their mother's pouch. Australia is home to more species of marsupials than anywhere else in the world.

Kangaroos and koalas are intriguing Australian marsupials that receive a lot of press. We pulled 4 animal encyclopedias and a set of children's encyclopedias from our local library. We found only one book that included a small blurb about Bilby. Kangaroos, Koalas and wombats take up most of the space on the selves. What's more a search of popular Australian zoos' websites produced similar results.

While we were in Charleville we discovered a grassroots movement that works towards increasing awareness of Bilby.

Interesting Bilby Facts

  • The scientific name aptly describes this cutie. The genus, Macrotis, is Greek for big ears and for the Greater Bilby species, Lagotis, means milky in colour. Yes, Bilbies have very sensitive hearing and smell.

Comparison of Bilby to a human hand
  • Adults grow to between 29-55 cm tall and can weigh up to 3.7 kg

  • The Bilby is an omnivore foraging for insects, small creatures, seeds and herbs.

  • The Bilby is a nocturnal burrowing and searching for food after dark.

  • Bilbies build spiral burrows.

  • A Greater Bilby mother can have up to four litters per year with litters ranging in size from one to four Joeys.

  • Their backward-facing pouch doesn't fill with earth while they dig up their dinner.

  • Historically the two varieties of Bilby, the Lesser and Greater Bilby, ranged over 70 per cent of mainland Australia's land mass. Australia is huge so that's a lot of Bilbies.

  • Sadly, the Lesser Bilby is extinct and the Greater Bilby is threatened.

How Regular People are Saving the Greater Bilby

The Australian government underpins the grassroots efforts by listing the Greater Bilby as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, with a species recovery plan in place. The department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water administers the act. Their website is here.

Graphic illustrating Bilby loss of habitat
Bilbies Habitat Invaded

Save The Bilby Fund is a not-for-profit involved in Bilby's promotion and protection. Their CEO Kevin Bradley estimated in December 2021 Bilbies had been pushed back to around 10% of their former range. Introduced predators such as cats and foxes are responsible for much of the decline. Human encroachment into wild areas has also paid a part.

Bilby on the cover, outback town tourism, Charleville
Bilby on Charleville's visitor booklet

In 1999, the late Frank Manthey OAM and the late scientist Peter McRae, launched Save The Bilby Fund to raise money to build a predator proof fence to stop the steady decline of bilby numbers. They achieved a predator proof enclosure located in Currawinya National Park where an estimated 100 Bilbies live and breed freely. This is an important part of Queensland's species recovery plan.

Save The Bilby Fund is a small not-for-profit that relies on grassroots action and does not receive any government funding. Money is raised through various means and donations by the public. Go to the Save The Bilby website here (donation links are on the 'help the bilby page'). Save The Bilby Fund is also involved with the Charleville Bilby Experience with proceeds going to the Fund.

Another movement is pushing to replace the Easter Bunny with an Easter Bilby. Rabbits and Bilbies do not cohabit and introduced rabbits are responsible for displacing bilbies from their natural habitat. For every purchase of a Darrell Lea Easter Bilby Milk Chocolate 20 cents is donated to Save The Bilby Fund.

Darrell Lea Easter Bilby

Increasing numbers are supporting Bilbies by celebrating National Bilby Day which is on the Second Sunday in September.

Where to see Bilby's up close

An easy way to see a Bilby exhibiting natural behaviour is in a nocturnal house. The house mimics the night environment, allowing daytime visitors to see active, nocturnal creatures. The Bilby house is lit with infrared light that the Bilby's eyes don't register thus tricking the Bilby into thinking it is night. So what we see as pink Bilby sees as the darkness of night. The people visiting are separated from the Bilby by a thick sheet of glass and can stand within centimetres of the action. I have listed 3 nocturnal house locations below.

Derek's pic of a Bilby in Charleville's Nocturnal House

1. Bilby Interpretive Experience, Railway Station, Warrego Highway, Charleville, Queensland.

Contact the host for availability:

Ph: (07) 4656 8359 (AU)

Web: www.experiencecharleville.com.au/

Charlieville boasts a nocturnal house that hosts Bilby interpretive and viewing sessions twice daily. The cost is only $22 AU per adult plus souvenirs are for sale and proceeds go to the Save The Bilby Fund.

Note: We stopped here as part of our 2 month Queensland rail adventure.

2. Ipswitch Nature Centre. Located in Queens Park, Goleby Avenue, Ipswitch, Queensland, Au

Bilby Nocturnal House Ipswitch Nature Centre

Open six days a week, Tuesday to Sunday with free entry! This nature centre hosts a series of walks through various enclosures and environments that house a host of Australian native animals.

Frank Manthey, founder of Save the Bilby Fund, who was also instrumental in establishing the Bilby House in Ipswitch commented,

"When I first moved to Ipswich from Charleville, a lot of people had never even heard of a bilby let alone seen one."

Today, this facility's breeding programme is an important part of the species recovery plan source www.Ipswitchfirst.com.au

3. Taronga Zoo Night Precinct at Bradleys Head Road, Mossman, Sydney, NSW.

In 2018 we enjoyed a full day visiting Taronga Zoo. Bilbies were not on my radar at the time and we missed the Bilby enclosure altogether. Lucky for social media or I would have missed out.

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