While bilbies are usually solitary creatures, they sometimes live in
small groups of two to four. They have babies throughout the year, possibly
depending on rainfall and the availability of food. Mother bilbies will
be 'pregnant' for just14 days, but the young baby will be carried in
its mouther's pouch for up to 75 days after being born. If the conditions
are good, a female bilby may have four litters a year, with one to three
babies in each litter. In captivity, bilbies can live for up to seven
years, but no-one is sure how long they live in the wild.
Where are they found?
In the early 1900s, bilbies where found in many regions of
Australia, from the dry inland to the coastal areas. Since then, bilby
numbers have dropped dramatically. Now, they only to be found in scattered
areas in mulga shrublands and spinifex grasslands in the Tanami Desert
of the Northern Territory; in the Gibson and Great Sandy deserts and
the Pilbara and kimberley regions of Western Australia; and the mitchell
grasslands of south-west Queensland.
What dangers do they face?
The most important dangers facing bilbies today are environmental
changes and the threat of introduced animals. In the late 1890s, bilbies
were hunted for their skins and many others were killed by rabbit traps
and poison baits meant for other animals. Bilbies are now protected
As farming and grazing spread over much of Australia, the bilbie's habitat
changed rapidly. For example, they can't live in the huge, open areas
of wheat farms. Natural fire patterns have also changed, which has had
an effect of the type and quantity of food plants.
However, the major threat to the bilby is introduced animals. Stock,
such as cattle and sheep, eat the same plants as the bilby. Rabbits
also compete with bilbies for food, as well as reducing the natural
vegetation that provides cover for bilbies. Other animals -- such as
foxes and feral cats -- prey on the bilbies.
Because of these factors, bilbies now only exist in small, isolated
groups in the driest and least fertile regions of Australia. They are
at risk from predators, disease, drought and inbreeding.
What's going to happen?
A National Recovery Plan has been undertaken to ensure the
bilby does not become extinct. This includes managing the bilby's habitat
so numbers can expand, breeding bilbies in captivity, and re-establishing
bilbies in areas where they previously were to be found. Programs are
already underway in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.
Colonies of bilbies bred in captivity are held in the Northern Territory,
in New South Wales and in South Australia. These will provide bilbies
for release into the wild.
The bilby holds an important part of traditional culture
in the deserts of Central Australia. The Pitjantjatjarra people call
the bilby ninu, while the Warlpiri people call it walpajirtri.
Aboriginal people tell stories from their Dreaming about the bilby,
and are contributing their invaluable traditional knowledge to help
in the fight to save this small mammal