Greater Bilby Reintroduction
To breed and reintroduce greater bilbies into their former range in Australia
Greater bilbies, Macrotis lagotis, were once widespread in Australia, with their distribution covering about 70% of the mainland. Bilbies have declined dramatically since European arrival due to introduction of predators and competitors and land clearance, and are now found in only 20% of their former range. In South Australia, bilbies went extinct around the 1930s.
In 1994 a captive breeding program for greater bilbies was established at Monarto Zoo, and this forms part of a nationwide breeding program, with the studbook managed by a Zoos SA staff member. More than 130 bilbies have since been bred in the captive colony, with these individuals either remaining in captivity for breeding, or being released into one of the five South Australian release sites.
The first reintroduction occurred on an Island off Pt Lincoln in 1997, a island within the bilbies former range which was free of foxes, cats and rabbits, as well as being of sufficient size to support a viable bilby population. Released animals were carefully monitored to gain an understanding of how the animals were fairing with their new surroundings, and results were encouraging. Within 2 years of release, one third of the island had been visited by the bilbies, and by 2004 enough animals were present to allow individuals to be sourced from the island population for further reintroductions.
In 2000, 9 captive bred animals were released into a 14 km² enclosure at Roxby Downs Arid Recovery Project where foxes, cats and rabbits had been removed. These animals have been so successful in establishing themselves within the reserve (with several hundred bilbies now found within the reserve) that several trial releases of animals outside the fenced reserve have been conducted. Trials have involved using one way gates to enable bilbies to move into new areas and also releasing animals into areas where baiting is used to control predator numbers and where animals have been given some behavioural conditioning to respond to signs of predators. 100 days after release 17 of the 20 released animals were still alive.
Between 2001 and 2005, 23 captive bred bilbies were released into Venus Bay Conservation Park where a predator exclusion fence has been erected across the narrow neck of the Weyland Peninsula. These bilbies have spread from their reintroduction site into the northern part of the reserve, with numbers increasing in regenerating farmland within the predator exclusion fence.
Further reintroductions have occurred at Yookamurra Sanctuary and Banrock Station, and South Australian bilbies have also been sent to Western Australia to assist in other recovery programs. The captive breeding program also continues, along with educational activities at both Adelaide and Monarto Zoos.
Haigh's Chocolates sponsor the greater bilbies at Adelaide Zoo, and contribute a portion of the proceeds made from their ‘Easter bilby' sales to bilby conservation. Each year at Easter, Adelaide Zoo and Haigh's Chocolates combine to promote the plight of this endangered marsupial through keeper talks held at the bilby exhibit within the Nocturnal House. Monarto Zoo also hosts keeper talks at the greater bilby exhibit within the Visitor Centre at Easter, where the animals are on display year-round.
WAZA Conservation Project 09010 is implemented by the South Australian Greater Bilby Recovery Team and is supported by Conservation Ark - Royal Zoological Society of South Australia, Department for Environment and Heritage, SA Greater Bilby Recovery Team, Arid Recovery, Yookamurra Sanctuary - Australian Wildlife Conservancy, Venus Bay Conservation Park, Banrock Station, University of Adelaide, Thistle Island Management Association.
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