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Media Release
Senator the Hon Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment

Australia's Easter Symbol Still Under Threat


30 March 1997
(33/97)

Bilby numbers may be increasing in the chocolate shops but Australia's only surviving bilby species, the Greater Bilby, is still threatened with extinction in the wild.

Federal Environment Minister Robert Hill says while several factors are combining to create promising opportunities for the Greater Bilby, any recovery of the species will be a long, painstaking process.

The bilby, which has the Aboriginal names 'ninu' and 'walpajirri', is Australia's largest bandicoot and is classified as vulnerable under Commonwealth legislation.

"While the adoption of the bilby as a distinctly Australian symbol of Easter should be supported, the very real threat to the survival of this species must not be forgotten.

"The Greater Bilby once covered 70 per cent of the continent but has been lost from almost all areas except the Great Sandy, Gibson and Tanami deserts, parts of the Kimberley and a small patch of western Queensland.

"Since European settlement, livestock grazing, competition with rabbits for food and burrows, predation from foxes and feral cats and the degradation of habitat have all contributed to the dramatic decline in bilby numbers.

"There is hope the recent success of the rabbit calicivirus in some areas of the arid zone, coupled with excellent rains and good vegetation growth, may boost bilby numbers.

"Female bilbies can produce four litters of up to three young in a year in ideal conditions, but the need to maintain genetic diversity in bilby colonies, damage to their habitat and continued predation by foxes and cats are still major threats.

"Through the Natural Heritage Trust, the Howard Government is providing an additional $16 million to assist the recovery of threatened species."

The national Bilby Recovery Plan details research and management actions aimed at bilby conservation in the Northern Territory, Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia. The actions include predator management, captive breeding and reintroducing bilbies into predator-proof sanctuaries and areas where the species once occurred, providing predators can be controlled.

The only other bilby species, the Lesser Bilby, is believed to be extinct.

Media contact - Matt Brown on 0419 693 515 or 06 277 7640.

Commonwealth of Australia