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Bilbies breeding (almost) like rabbits -

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Bilbies breeding (almost) like rabbits

The World Today - Friday, 13 March , 2009 12:51:00

Reporter: James Kelly

TANYA NOLAN: One species listed as vulnerable on the international Red List is the bilby.

They're already extinct in New South Wales and South Australia and they've nearly been wiped out
across the northern half of the country.

But researchers in outback Queensland say they're seeing signs that the bilby could be breeding
itself back from the brink.

James Kelly reports.

JAMES KELLY: Zoologist Peter McRae says the bilby, a small plant and animal eating marsupial,
inhabited about 70 per cent of Australia at the time of Captain Cook.

But almost 240 years later their numbers have diminished close to extinction.

PETER MCRAE: They're endangered and they're one of these small to medium-sized mammals that have
suffered dramatic range decline. In New South Wales they're extinct. The last bilby in New South
Wales was recorded there in 1912 I think it was. They're extinct in South Australia.

JAMES KELLY: Mr McRae says it's difficult to say how many live in the Northern Territory or Western
Australia but believes there's only about a thousand left in Queensland.

That's not many is it?

PETER MCRAE: No, no it's not many at all and when you think they used to occur right out from the
Northern Territory border through to Surat, just on the edge of the Darling Downs there, it's a
huge loss of that species from those areas.

JAMES KELLY: Four years ago Queensland's Environmental Protection Agency began a bilby breeding
trial in the Currawinya National Park south-west of Cunnamulla, on the New South Wales-Queensland
border.

Three female bilbies and an older male were put in a fenced, feral animal-proof enclosure measuring
29 square kilometres.

They haven't bred as well as rabbits but Mr McRae says the results are exciting.

PETER MCRAE: In two nights just last week I saw 42 animals and that's remarkable in terms of, you
know, the previous six to 12 months. I'd be out there for a week or two weeks at a time and I'd
only see one or two or sometimes three animals.

I guess the really exciting thing was not only just seeing lots of animals but seeing lots of
juveniles and seeing a couple of animals that were probably only out of the pouch for three or four
days or a week.

JAMES KELLY: Peter McRae says he'll keep monitoring the special bilby population but says the
future of the species shouldn't be behind anti-feral fences.

He's calling on farmers and community groups to play their part so the bilby numbers can grow and
the animals won't just be remembered as a substitute for chocolate rabbits at Easter.

PETER MCRAE: What the feral-proof enclosure shows you that if you do keep the baddies away, the
foxes and the cats and the rabbits, these animals will do fine. And I think what we've got to do is
make people start thinking about, at a society level is it, do we want to be able to have these
unique animals around us? If we do, we've got to be quite vigilant about doing something about the
introduced exotic predators that we've unfortunately brought here and allowed to establish
themselves in the wild.

TANYA NOLAN: Zoologist Peter McRae.