Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Easter Bilby

Some parents debate about whether to tell their children about the Tooth Fairy or the Tooth Mouse, but as far as I was aware there was never any question about who hid away the Easter eggs. It was always the Easter Bunny. That is, until I spent my first Easter in Australia. Here the Easter Bunny has serious competition from the Easter Bilby, and for really serious reasons.

Well, firstly for those of you who (like me until I arrived in Australia) have little idea of what a bilby is…
Here is some info thanks to the Australian Bilby Appreciation Society
 The bilby is a member of the bandicoot family.
 They are marsupials – the pouch opens backwards so as not to be filled with dirt while digging.
 The bilby measures up to 55cm in length (body only) with a tail up to 29cm long. Adult males weigh up to 2.5kg and females about half that.
 Bilbies have very soft fur that is mainly blue grey, with some fawn. The belly is white and the tail is black with a white crest at the end and a naked spur-like tip.
 Bilbies have poor eyesight, but their hearing and smelling senses are very good.
 They live in spiraling burrows which they dig up to 2 metres deep.
 Bilbies are truly nocturnal, emerging from their burrows at least an hour after dusk and retreating at least an hour before dawn. A full moon, strong wind or heavy rain can keep bilbies in their burrows all night.
 Bilbies are omnivorous, eating seeds, spiders, insects and their larvae, bulbs, fruit, fungi and small animals.

The campaign to replace the Easter bunny with the Bilby has a really serious side to it. Firstly, it is hoped that the campaign will raise public awareness of the endangered Australian species. An author of children’s books Rose-Marie Dusting published a book called Billy the Aussie Easter Bilby in 1979 and donated a percentage of the sales of her books to bilby conservation. Bilbies were found in about 70% of mainland Australia, but are now extinct in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. There are about 600 bilbies left in Queensland.

One expert recently quoted in the media stated that the bilby needed our protection because it is hopeless at escaping danger. The expert said bilbies try to frighten their attackers by wiggling their bottoms and waving their black tipped tail. "Let's just say it's been unsuccessful against foxes and cats," the article states.

The other side to the Easter Bilby campaign is that rabbits were introduced to Australia and have caused damage to the native environment. So, while there is the Bilby Appreciation Society, there’s also the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia. Their website states: “Very young children are indoctrinated with the concept that bunnies are nice soft fluffy creatures whereas in reality they are Australia’s greatest environmental feral pest and cause enormous damage to the arid zone.”

The rabbit problem in Australia is a serious one. The foundation says that they are an invasive pest, having been introduced by the early English settlers for hunting, and cost Australia’s primary production millions of dollars a year. A total of 24 wild European rabbits introduced in 1859 produced 10 billion rabbits by the 1920s! Rabbits compete with similar sized native animals for shelter and food and can prevent the regeneration of native trees and shrubs. In 2007, 121 native plant species were considered to be threatened by rabbits.

However, newspapers reported after this Easter that the bilby campaign has lost momentum, although there are still funds being raised through the sale of chocolate bilbies, as well as other products and other means. "Bilby fatigue as rabbits win the Easter chocolate war" read one headline. Interestingly though, a website that held a poll asking Easter Bunny or Easter Bilby had 108 voters, 57% in favour of the bunny and 43% in favour of the bilby. That's pretty close!

1 comment:

Andrea said...

How interesting....and how lovely to be living in a country where all they had to report on over the Easter period was who was winning the "race".

Hope that you and Phil are still settling well and enjoying the new life that you have chosen, I am certainly enjoying reading about it so keep those entries coming.