Interview with Andrew Elphinstone

Interview with Andrew Elphinstone

#Taronga Zoo Sydney

Posted on 13th April 2017 by Media Relations

So what is a Bilby and what’s so special about it? Bilbies are a really unique little marsupial and they’ve been really important to the Australian ecosystem. They burrow and this helps turn over soils, turn over nutrients and helps water and seeds to penetrate the land – really good for healthy soil systems. And this helps create habitats for other species as well The Bilby is an iconic Australian animal but sadly, it’s one you’d be hard pressed—and very lucky—to see one in the wild these days. Everyone knows of them but they’re now only found in a few very isolated places in Queensland and Western Australia. 

So what’s going on to help save the Bilby? Bilbies used to be found across Australia. People think of bilbies as a animal that lives in the very remote, very arid areas of Australia but this was never the case — they used to live in all kinds of ecosystems. Introduced predators like foxes and feral cats, and competition with introduced animals like rabbits, have had a huge effect on the Bilby. These threats have caused a significant restriction on the bilbies range. Now the Bilby only exists in some of the really arid parts of the country where some of those predators and rabbits aren’t well adapted to surviving in.


What initivies are their to help save the bilby? At the moment, the main strategy we have to help the Bilby is to manage very large fenced sites where introduced predators like foxes and feral cats, as well as rabbit populations, can be managed and limited. There are some huge sites our there—thousands and thousands of hectares—and this gives a rare chance for these wonderful marsupials to thrive. The biggest populations of bilbies you’ll find today are in managed sites run by conservation organisations.

There are many challenges in setting up these big conservation projects. The first one is the fencing and how to remove predators from these enclosed sanctuaries. Managing such large tracts of land and making sure the native fauna within is safe from outside influence is a hard task. The answer lies in solidly built and impenetrable feral animal fencing. Conservation fencing is highly effective but very expensive to establish and maintain. But once it’s up and running, it’s very good at excluding foxes and cats and creating a haven that allows our most vulnerable native wildlife to thrive.


These sanctuaries are the first thing we need to safeguard the Bilby and other native fauna from extinction. Ideally — and in the not too distant future — we can go beyond the fence to find places we can reintroduce Bilbies to create a thriving wild population once again.What’s Taronga doing to help? Taronga celebrated its centenary in 2016 by announcing a 10 year conservation plan to help 10 critically endangered species in Australia and Sumatra. One of these species is the Greater Bilby.


“The Bilby is one of Taronga’s centenary species' - an endangered animal that we have made a conservation commitment to over the next 10 years. Our goal is to have Bilbies secure in the wild in the next decade.” “Recently, Taronga brought the Bilby National Recovery Team together in Sydney for a workshop to look at how we can all work together to help the bilby across the country.” “Taronga’s been working closely with other conservation organisations like the Save a Bilby Fund —they run some conservation sites for Bilbies in Queensland and do a lot of good public awareness campaigns for the Bilby too “Taronga also works closely with the Austrlian Wildflie Conservancy: supporting their work at the Scotia reserve in western New South Wales where they have a large fenced site.” In fact, the Scotia reserve is the largest fox and cat-free area on mainland Australia and is home to Australia’s largest remaining populations of threatened mammals such as Bilbies, Numbats, Bridled Nailtail Wallabies and Brush-tailed Bettongs. “Taronga’s been in talks with some new partners to look at what we can for Bilbies in New South Wales. We’ve got some big plans in development that we will think really help this amazing little animal. Because of this more collaborative and coordinated effort between conservation organisations, I think the future of the Bilby is looking good.”Why should Australians celebrate the Bilby, not the bunny, this Easter?“This Easter, we should all show our support for the Bilby — not the bunny. A lot of people probably don’t realise that the introduction of rabbits to Australia remains one of the biggest threats to our Bilbies. They’re competing for food, habitat and other resources. The Bilby needs your help!”