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Australian animals: the bilby

Their ears are long, their fur is soft and their noses are pink and whiskered – come and play with a bilby!

By Georgia Rickard
Published: 31 August, 2017

A cute, tiny creature that looks like a bunny (except with softer fur): what’s not to love about Australia’s answer to the rabbit? Bilbies might be typically found in the Outback, but keep an eye out for them in cities, too. Australians love bilbies so much that at Easter we sell chocolate bilbies alongside chocolate Easter bunnies. There’s even a National Bilby Day on our official calendar.

Sadly, this sweet little creature has come under threat in recent times. One clever group has come up with a few ways humans can help – and they involve lots of pats. Zookeeper Alyce Baxter and Al Mucci, chair of the Save the Bilby Fund, tell us more.

Get to know Australia's bilbies

The Bilby Experience, Charleville, Queensland

What exactly is a bilby?

Al: “A bilby looks like a rabbit, but it’s a member of the bandicoot family. Like other bandicoots, bilbies hop, dig burrows and have a pouch.”

Are they friendly?

Alyce: “They’re very shy in the wild, mostly active at night and live below the ground in burrows, so it would be unlikely you would see one in the wild. In captivity, however, they’re very friendly with humans and can be quite snuggly.”

Can you pat a bilby?

Alyce: “Yes! In an Outback town called Charleville, where I live, there’s The Bilby Experience. Learn all about bilbies and how special they are, then walk through a nocturnal enclosure with special lights in it. The bilbies think it’s night-time, so they’re active and you can watch them foraging and hopping around. You’ll also have a zookeeper bring a bilby out of the enclosure and everyone is encouraged to come up, have a pat and take a photo.”

Al: “You can also pat a bilby at Dreamworld, a theme park on the Gold Coast. They have a Sunset Safari Tour where you’ll visit the bilbies’ nocturnal house before hearing an Aboriginal Dreamtime story related to the bilby. After that, you’ll also have a chance to pat a bilby. They’re lovely animals.”

What does it feel like to pat a bilby?

Alyce: “Their fur feels like feathers – it’s very soft and fine, like down. A bilby is softer than a cat or a rabbit.”

The Bilby Experience, Charleville, Queensland

Do they make noises?

Alyce: “They’re very shy, but occasionally they make a funny little noise when they’re interacting with each other. It’s halfway between a squeak and a grunt – there’s no other way to describe it. They also sometimes let out a quiet hiss when something enters their burrow and they don’t like it. It’s not as loud as a cat’s hiss, it sounds more like air coming out of a tyre.”

Why are bilbies under threat?

Al: “Like many animals around the world, bilbies are under threat because of introduced species. They compete with rabbits for food and space, while introduced cats and foxes are apex predators that bilbies have not evolved to cope with.”

Where do bilbies live?

Al: “Bilbies used to range across 70 per cent of Australia in quite a lot of environments, but they now only live in desert environments in the Outback, where feral predators have difficulty surviving. They’re clever little animals – they can survive in the desert without water, where other animals can’t. They will drink water if available, but can get it from one of their food sources, insects.”

Wow! Do they have any other special powers?

Alyce: “The good news is they breed very quickly; it’s an animal we’ve got a lot of hope for. A bilby is only pregnant for 12 to 14 days. They can have up to four litters a year and are most commonly born in twin pairs.”

The Bilby Experience, Charleville, Queensland

What else is there to do in Charleville?

Alyce: “The bilbies attract a lot of visitors to Charleville, but there’s loads to do aside from The Bilby Experience. The Cosmos Centre observatory has telescopes where you can see certain constellations and planets. You can take a tour through a secret US air base that was here during WWII. Hotel Corones has a museum with a guided Scones and Stories tour, which takes you back to the busy shearing days. It’s a really welcoming town and a great stop on the way to Longreach or Birdsville. A lot of people are surprised there are so many things to do here!”

What about at Dreamworld?

Al: “Dreamworld is the biggest theme park in Australia – there’s almost too much to mention. However, National Bilby Day is coming up on Sunday 10 September, so for that weekend (9-10 September), $1 from every entry will be donated to the Save the Bilby Fund. There’ll be lots of bilby things happening. You can watch a bilby parade, meet a bilby character or even make bilby cupcakes. And, of course, get up close to a real live bilby.” 

Is there anything else we should know about bilbies?

Alyce: “Well, they’re not found anywhere else on Earth, so you’ll only see them in Australia. Pretty special.”

Think that’s cute? Wait till you see this.