The greater bilby is a small, native mammal with large 'rabbit-like' ears and a distinctive banded tail. Although it was once common in many parts of Australia, it is now classified as vulnerable. There was another species, called the lesser bilby, but that is sadly thought to be extinct.

Bilbies are actually members of the ground-dwelling marsupials called bandicoots, which have long, pointed snouts and compact bodies. The bilby is the largest bandicoot in Australia, with a body length (not counting the tail) of between 29 cm and 55 cm. Males are generally twice as large as females and may weigh up to 2.5 kg. Where they are different from other bandicoots is their larger ears, long silky fur and their long tails, which can be 20 to 29 cm long. The differences you can't see include their burrowing habits and their special diet. Those large ears, which are nearly hairless, not only help them hear their enemies, but also act as a sort of 'radiator' to help them keep cool. Although their eyesight is not particularly good, they have excellent sense of smell and hearing.


They also have long, slender tongues, which are used to pick up food, such as seeds, from the ground. Bilbies also use their strong forepaws to dig for food such as insects and insect larvae, bulbs, fruit and fungi. Because water is often scarce in the drier areas in which bilbies live, they obtain their water from the food they eat.

The bilby's fur is mainly a blue-grey colour, with white or cream on the belly and two fawn stripes on each hip. Its tail is black and has a 'crest' of white hairs towards the tip. Bilbies havle slender back legs and their back feet have a large middle toe, like a kangaroo. They have very strong forelegs with strong claws, which are used for burrowing and digging for food. In fact, the bilby is a remarkable burrower, and may have as many as 12 burrows within its 'home range'.

Bilbies are nocturnal, sheltering in their burrows during the day and hunting for food at night. Their burrows travel down in a spiral for about two metres, and the entrance is usually well hidden in a clump of grass or bush. If in danger, a bilby will dive into its burrow -- and may even dig an extension on the move to escape danger..

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 by law.

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.

Desert Aboriginals
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