WORDS & IMAGES: DANIELLE LANCASTER
It’s Bilby time!
Easter is approaching. Does the Easter Bunny or Bilby come to you?
Easter is pending and for me it is a reminder of the importance of our Australian wildlife.
Many years ago, we tossed out the bunny and introduced the Easter Bilby. Why? Because the Bilby is so cute, so Australian, one of our most endangered Australian species and very similar to the introduced rabbit.
Did you know?
The Bilby is the largest member of the bandicoot family.
They are much like a rabbit – they breed prolifically when conditions are suitable. The female bilby is only pregnant for 12 to 14 days, one of the shortest gestation periods of all mammals.
With their long pointed nose, almost transparent ears and soft blue-tinged fur, they are also nearly blind and rely on their strong sense of smell and hearing acuity.
One of Australia’s numerous nocturnal marsupials, the bilby is omnivorous, only eating seeds, small insects and their larvae, bulbs, fruit and fungi.
Once there was the Lesser and Greater bilby. Unfortunately today only the Greater Bilby, Macrotis lagotis, survives.
The name bilby is believed to be an Aboriginal word meaning ‘long-nosed rat’.
The best places to see Bilbies in captivity
Cosmos Centre, Charleville
Charleville Queensland Parks and Wildlife is original captive breeding station for bilbies lead by Dr Peter McRae, known to many as the Bilby Man. The Cosmos Centre runs regular Bilby Experiences where you can get to see a bilby up close and learn about the species. Open from April to October From 6pm. Bookings: 07 4654 7771
David Fleay Wildlife Park
Situated in West Burleigh on the Gold Coast and with an exception nocturnal house, David Fleay Wildlife Park is a brilliant small park run by the devoted Queensland national park and wildlife staff. The park showcases many Australian animal species including the bilby.
The park is located on the corner of Loman Road and West Burleigh Road, West Burleigh. Open 9.00am to 5.00pm seven days a week, every day of the year except Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning. Entry fees apply. There is a café open from 10.00am to 2.30pm and the nocturnal house is open from 11.00am to 5.00pm.
Alice Springs Desert Park
This Desert Park is approximately a mere 10 minute journey from the centre of Alice Springs. The Larapinta bike track also leads directly to the entrance of the Park. Here you can view up to 200 animals and 400 plants that call central Australia home, including the bilby.
Open daily from 7.30am to 6pm daily with last entry at 4.30pm. Closed Christmas Day.
Featherdale Wildlife Park
At Featherdale in Sydney, you can meet the special Banjo and other bilbies. Banjo is the first Bilby in the state of New South Wales to become a part of the sponsorship program.
The park is open every day from 9am to 5pm and a fabulous wildlife experience so close to one of Australia’s busiest cities.
Bilbies In the Wild
You will rarely see a Bilby in the wild. They are nocturnal and reside naturally in desert areas within a variety of arid habitats in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Queensland.
Grassy areas of spinifex and other dry grasses are a favourite location for bilby burrows. Bilby burrows can be up to three metres long and two metres deep and they have been known to dig a new burrow every couple of weeks. Much like rabbits.
Their burrows are underground, where the temperature is controlled and they are known to emerge any time from an hour after dusk and will scurry back an hour before dawn. It is thought a full moon, strong winds and heavy rains keep the bilbies tucked up tight in their burrows.
National Bilby Day
National Bilby Day is held annually on the second Sunday of September.
About the Bilby Man – Peter McRae
Born in Finley in country New South Wales he was apparently known as the ‘kid collecting stuff like tadpoles, butterflies and frogs’. Peter wanted to do a degree and toyed with astronomy, physics and mathematics, but luckily for the bilbies, he was awarded a Commonwealth Scholarship and went to the Australian National University in Canberra in 1970 to study zoology.
After completing his degree he continued following butterflies in far north Queensland before moving back to Brisbane for work which included helping a Ph.d student study rats on Fraser Island as well as working at Griffith University, in the School of Australian and Environmental Studies. During this time he started following the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.
Peter helped organise field trips and field courses for students, mainly to Stradbroke Island. He was involved in a variety of research projects in marine and fresh water systems and set up the Museum of Biological Specimens at the School and was its curator.
In 1984, Peter moved to Charleville to study kangaroos and was given the opportunity to work on bilbies in 1988. Peter surveyed the Diamantina Shire for vertebrate animals with Rob Atherton, Gary Porter and Darryl Reimer.
Peter attributes Rob Atherton to this day as giving him the passion to follow the bilby and work for its survival. Peter’s research has enabled great progress in the conservation of the species.
Peter still calls Charleville home with his partner Tracey and they continue working on the breeding and research of one of Australia’s cutest yet endangered species.
Peter, together with his friend Frank, co-founded the Save the Bilby Fund in 1999. Together they raised the funds to build the bilby enclosure project in Currawinya National Park, near Cunnamulla in far western Queensland. The 25sq-km electrified predator-proof enclosure has enabled bilbies to be re-introduced into the wild. The bilby fence was opened officially in 2003, and the first release of captive-bred bilbies occurred in 2005.
Keep an eye out for him as he still visits the bilby experience at the Cosmos Centre – he’ll be the bloke with a long beard and bilby cap on.
Images courtesy © Danielle Lancaster
Danielle is a photojournalist based at Mt Tamborine, just outside Brisbane. She is a winner of several photography awards, with her most recent being the ‘Best Travel Book Writer’ at the 2014 Travel Journalism Awards held in Fiji. Danielle loves nature and the outdoors, and particularly loves photographing the Australian outback. Danielle is also the judge of our photo competitions and owns Bluedog Photography: www.blue-dog.com.au