Fighting the worst mammal extinction rate in the world

Fighting the worst mammal extinction rate in the world

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but Australia has the worst mammal extinction rate in the world with a significant proportion of the surviving animals and plants listed as threatened. The Greater Bilby is one such species.  Bilbies were once common and inhabited 70% of Australia but sadly, they have now disappeared from more than 80% of their entire range.  To take action against this frightening statistic, Taronga Conservation Society Australia has partnered with the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC).

Predation by introduced species such as foxes and feral cats is thought to be the biggest threat to the bilby population.  AWC was founded more than a decade ago and aims to acquire land (or form partnerships with landholders) for the purpose of establishing sanctuaries to protect our threatened wildlife. Bilbies have been reintroduced in these sanctuaries with great success.  At present, approximately 20% of the global Greater Bilby population is protected at AWC’s Yookamurra and Scotia Wildlife sanctuaries in South Australia and NSW. Feral predator-free fences and effective feral animal control have allowed bilbies and other native mammals such as Numbats, Bettongs and Bridled Nail-tailed Wallabies, to thrive and reproduce.

Maintaining a conservation fence is a resource intensive task.  At Scotia Sanctuary, the 56km fenceline is patrolled every 48 hours and repairs and horticultural works undertaken as required.  That’s 10,200km of fence in 2014 alone! 

Also, in addition to the regular checks and maintenance, extensive feral animal control was carried out beyond the fenced predator-free area.  In the last year, 37 foxes, 10 feral cats and 170 goats were removed from the area. This is a tremendous step forward for Bilby conservation.

A number of staff have had the opportunity to visit Scotia Sanctuary and contribute to the in-situ conservation program through mammal trapping surveys. Battling extreme weather conditions (hot days and freezing nights), working through the night and no mobile reception (!!) is tough but extremely rewarding.  It’s also a fantastic way to hone mammal handling skills, develop relationships with AWC’s field ecologists and, most importantly, see Bilbies roaming free in areas where they had disappeared from!

Here at Taronga, we contribute to the regional Bilby breeding program.  In 2014, Taronga celebrated its first ever Bilby breeding success with the birth of 2 female joeys from our breeding pair. This is a great result for Bilby conservation.

Bilbies can be seen in the Australian Nightlife exhibit (map reference J4). 

 By conservation champion Vanessa Stebbings