There is more to ‘why save bilbies’ than the fact that they look amazing, they have adorable ears and beautiful silky soft fur.
Firstly, bilby ancestors have been found as fossilised remains dating back 15 million years – which make them a very special species. They have been an intrinsic part of the landscape across 70% of the Australian mainland for all that time. From the time Europeans arrived, bilbies stretched from the Great Dividing range in the east to the 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, change of land use, population growth, and introduced non-native species.
The bilby is also an animal at the heart of Australia’s First People’s culture and is a significant creature present in many dreamtime stories and cave art. CLICK HERE to see the most recently discovered and very ancient paintings which include a bilby.
Secondly, bilbies are a scientific ‘flagship’ species. This means that their protection is even more important because their survival in turn increases the chances of 16 other threatened species and countless others who share the same habitats and threatening processes in the wild.
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.
They love to dig!
In doing so, they create many disturbances in the compacted and hardened soil allowing 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, which is at threat from the continued loss of bilbies. Where they have disappeared, hard-hoofed animals compact the surface of the ground 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 critically important ecosystems at play in arid Australia.