There is more to ‘why’ bilbies than the fact that they look amazing, they have adorable ears and beautiful silky soft fur.
Firstly, they have been around for at least 5 million years. They have been an intrinsic part of the landscape across 70% of the Australian mainland for all that time. At the time of European invasion, it reached from the Great Dividing range in the east to the turquoise blue Gascoyne coast in the west.
Yet in the last 100 years they have been pushed to the brink of extinction as a direct result of colonisation and population growth.
The bilby is also an animal at the heart of our First Nations’ culture and is present in many dreamtime stories and cave art CLICK HERE for the article.
Secondly, bilbies are a scientific ‘keystone’ species. This means that their protection is even more important because their survival in turn increases the chances of 19 other threatened species who share the same habitats.
Bilbies are one of nature’s eco-engineers, they play a really important part in the restoration of soil and rejuvenation of vegetation in arid Australia. They use their strong front paws to dig deep burrows which spiral down into the ground for roughly 2 metres.
And they love to dig!
In doing so, the they create many holes in the compacted and hardened soil that enables plant material to fall in and decompose. At the same time, soil is aerated which supports seed germination.
Bilbies essentially create numerous compost pits every night.
That’s nature’s perfectly balanced ecosystem at work, but it’s threatened by the decline of bilbies. Where they have disappeared, the soil has become hardened on the surface and water, when it comes, reacts in a different way. Instead of soaking in, it runs straight off and in doing so changes flood patterns which in turn changes the balanced ecosystem of arid Australia.
Bilby habitats also give protection to other endangered species – brush-tailed mulgara and spinifex hopping mice permanently occupy bilby burrows. A further two species – short-beaked echidnas and sand goannas – regularly using bilby burrows for shelter.
In total, an additional 16 mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian and invertebrate threatened species were detected interacting with bilby burrows. There was no difference in the number of species using disused or occupied bilby burrows, indicating that even disused bilby burrows are important structures for other species.
So, saving the bilby from extinction also means saving other native species plus it will help restore the ecosystems at play in arid Australia.