Why Are Bilbies Endangered?

Author: Heide Hackworth   Date Posted:22 January 2024 

Bilbies were once widespread throughout Australia, but their numbers are in decline, and they need our help!

What Is A Bilby?

The bilby, scientifically known as Macrotis lagotis, is a unique nocturnal marsupial in the order Peramelemophia, often referred to as a dalgyte, pinkie, or rabbit-eared bandicoot. Despite being loosely associated with bandicoots, bilbies form a distinct family. The only remaining bilby species in Australia, The Greater Bilby, is characterized by its large ears, constituting up to 66% of its body length, and a white crest on its tail. Indigenous communities across Australia have various names for the bilby, such as Mankurr and Ninu. The word 'bilby' itself comes from the Aboriginal term 'bilba,' meaning 'long-nosed rat.'

Bilbies have remarkable features, including sensitive ears crucial for detecting predators and prey, hairless and coolable by blood vessels. Their eyesight is poor, and they are sensitive to light. Bilbies are similar in size to rabbits, with ash-grey fur on top and white underneath. Their distinctive tail, ending in a white crest concealing a pink spur, remains a mysterious feature. With impressive razor-sharp teeth, they are omnivores, favoring bush onions and mealworms. Bilbies possess a long sticky tongue, a keen sense of smell, and hind legs resembling macropods with fused toes and an enlarged fourth digit, leading to a distinct footprint. The unique pouch is upside-down to prevent soil from entering during digging, and their strong forelegs are essential for climbing into the pouch from birth.

What Do Bilbies Eat?

The bilby is an omnivore with a diverse diet encompassing bulbs, fruits, seeds, fungi, insects, worms, termites, small lizards, and even spiders. Among its preferred plant foods is the bush onion or yalka, thriving in desert sand plains post-fires. Bilbies have evolved to endure the absence of permanent water, much like koalas, as they derive most of their moisture from their food. This adaptation has been crucial for their survival over millions of years. However, the challenge arises from feral foxes and cats, which can now access artificial water sources or adapt to harsh conditions, enabling them to survive in arid areas where bilbies were once nearly invulnerable.

Why Are Bilbies Endangered?

Bilby fossils have been found dating back 15 million years, and they once thrived, covering around 70% of the Australian mainland.

But today, bilbies face many challenges threatening their survival. Sadly, introduced predators like feral cats and foxes, colonisation and habitat loss has decimated Bilbies in huge numbers. If this continues, sadly Bilbies are headed for extinction.

The good news is that bilbies are a fast breeding animal and are superbly adapted to survival in our harsh outback. So their odds of recovery are really good!

Save the Bilby Fund are hard at work co-ordinating a national Recovery Plan to save bilbies. Along with other stakeholders all over Australia, they are breeding these adorable creatures in captivity, and releasing them inside Currawinya National Park, where they’re able to live safely behind a predator proof fence.

Why Help Bilbies?

Beyond their ecological significance, bilbies hold cultural importance in Australia's First People's culture, featuring prominently in dreamtime stories and ancient cave art.

As a scientific 'flagship' species, the preservation of bilbies becomes paramount, as their survival directly impacts 16 other threatened species and numerous others sharing similar habitats and facing common threats in the wild.

Bilbies are widely recognized as nature's eco-engineers, and play a crucial role in soil restoration and vegetation rejuvenation in arid Australia. With their nightly digging, they create deep burrows, breaking up compacted soil, facilitating decomposition of plant material, and promoting soil aeration for seed germination. This ecosystem service is endangered by the ongoing loss of bilbies, as their disappearance leads to altered flood patterns and a disrupted balance in arid Australia's delicate ecosystem.

Additionally, bilby habitats offer refuge to other endangered species, further highlighting the interconnectedness of biodiversity and the urgent need to protect bilbies to safeguard the broader ecosystem.


Bamboo Bilby

Supporting Save The Bilby Fund With Bamboo Bilby

You can help save bilbies! For every Bamboo Bilby sold, Earth Greetings donate $1 to Save the Bilby Fund, to help them achieve their national Bilby Recovery Plan.

With the resources available to it, Save the Bilby Fund is doing everything in its power to help save this precious marsupial of the Australian outback. The Fund is responsible for co-ordinating the national Recovery Plan for the species. Without this type of informed management of the wild, captive and semi-captive populations, Bilbies are at risk of becoming extinct.

Save the Bilby Fund relies on donations, and has no recurrent funding from any source, including the government. Visit Save The Bilby Fund to learn more about bilbies, and make a donation.


Leave a comment

Comments have to be approved before showing up