The Bilby: Australia’s Very Own Easter Bunny
The Bilby (Macrotis lagoti) is one of Australia’s favourite furry friends, and not just for it’s long, silky blue-grey fur and adorably long, pink ears. Bilby’s earn their coveted position as Aussie favourites thanks to a variety of ecological and cultural contributions.
If you were to ask any Australian farmer what they think of the Bilby, the answer would be unanimous. Bilby’s love to help around the farm, and that makes them especially adored by Aussie farmers. Often referred to as our very own Easter Bunny, Bilbies are consistently delivering the best present a farmer could ask for, healthy soil. Although they’re only small (and undeniably cute), Bilbies sure can pack a punch. Thankfully, they do most of their punching, in and amongst our soil.
In order to maintain their subterranean homes, Bilbies can shift more than 1.5 tonnes of soil per kilogram of body mass in a single year! They construct deep, long burrows up to three metres long and two metres deep to create their home. For farmers, that means they’re constantly turning over soil, burrowing through organic matter, and bringing deep soils and nutrients to the surface for plants and crops to thrive off. Their digging also allows for water to infiltrate deep into the soil, spreading important fungi and minerals.
The Future of Our Furry Friend
Bilbies can thrive in an array of habitats, from grasslands to desert sand plains, dune fields to gibber pavement, and once occupied around 70% of the continent. However, due to increasing threats to their survival, beginning in the early 20th century and intensifying the past decade, there are estimated to be fewer than 10,000 left in the wild. This has prompted a change in their status to ‘vulnerable’ on the International Union For Conservation of Nature Red List, and their classification as endangered.
The dwindling numbers are a result of a myriad of threats leveled at the Bilby. Most notably, the introduction of foxes, feral cats, and rabbits into Bilby habitats as well as the growing competition for food. Wildfires and extreme weather events can also leave Bilbies vulnerable to attack by stripping them of the cover provided by vegetation.
Together, these threats have had a devastating impact on our Bilby population.
How Can We Help?
The most effective means of conserving and increasing the Bilby population is the establishment of predator-free areas. Translocating threatened Bilbies to areas where they are protected from attack will enable them to prosper and reproduce without risk of predation. Farmers are also encouraged to maintain healthy, biodiverse soil. The healthier the soil, the more the vegetation will thrive and provide suitable, protected homes for our Bilby population to live in.
Outside of these focused conservation efforts, more awareness is necessary within the wider community about the dire future of our beloved Bilby. One such initiative proposed is the reimagining of the Easter Bunny to the Easter Bilby in an effort to shine a spotlight on our furry friends. So, as Easter rolls around this year, we implore you to start a conversation about our beloved Easter Bilbies, the gifts they offer our country, and how you can help bring about a better future for them.