Bilby Breeding

The bilby is a type of bandicoot, scientific name: Macrotis lagotis.  The bilby has many common names, including: Greater Bilby, Dalgyte, and Rabbit-Eared Bandicoot.  With its soft grey fur, white underbelly, black and white tail, long pointy pink nose, and large ears, the bilby is a very distinctive looking animal.  It is a nocturnal marsupial, with a backward-facing pouch.  The bilby is an omnivore and its natural diet includes seeds, fruits, bulbs, fungi, worms, insects, and other small animals.  The bilby is very proficient at digging, and lives in deep underground burrows.

Why is there a bilby breeding program?

The bilby once inhabited approximately 70% of the Australian mainland. However, destruction of suitable habitat through land clearing, and competition and predation by introduced animal species such as rabbits, foxes and feral cats, has greatly reduced the wild bilby population. Bilbies are now restricted to a much smaller area, in the remote arid regions of northern Western Australia, the Northern Territory and south-western Queensland. Classified as a Threatened Species, the Bilby is the subject of an Australia-wide Recovery Plan. The aim of the Recovery Plan is to increase the numbers of bilbies by captive breeding, and reintroduce them into suitable areas within their former range.

How is the breeding program conducted?

Bilbies are currently being bred in several captive breeding facilities around Australia. One of these facilities is located at the Kanyana Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. The Kanyana Bilby Breeding Program is conducted under the guidance of the WA Department of Parks and Wildlife (DPaW) and receives funding under DPaW’s Western Shield Program. However, the day to day running of the Kanyana Bilby Breeding Program depends entirely on volunteers. A large number of volunteers are involved in caring for the Kanyana bilbies. In any animal captive breeding program it is important to maintain the greatest possible genetic diversity within the population. The bilbies in the Kanyana breeding program are paired according to recommendations made by the Bilby Studbook Keeper with the Zoo and Aquarium Association (ZAA). The Studbook Keeper maintains the genetic records of all the bilbies in the captive breeding program and provides advice to all the bilby breeding facilities around Australia. Following advice from the Studbook Keeper, animals are regularly transferred between different captive breeding centres.

History of the Kanyana Bilby Breeding Program

The Kanyana bilby breeding program commenced in 1996 with the arrival at Kanyana of the first breeding pair, Bet-Bet and Basil. Since then more than 150 bilbies have passed through Kanyana. The Kanyana bilby breeding program has succeeded in producing over 100 baby bilbies, and these animals have been distributed throughout Australia to other breeding facilities, zoos and release sites. Many of the Kanyana bilbies have been released into a “soft-release” site, a predator-proof compound in the Dryandra Woodland, as part of DPaW’s “Return to Dryandra” project. The bilbies at Dryandra are surviving and successfully breeding in a natural bushland setting within two 10 hectare enclosures. Once sufficient numbers have built up within the Dryandra compound, animals are released to suitable sites in the wild. As a result of some of these releases, bilbies are once again living in the wild in the south-west of Western Australia, after disappearing from this part of the State more than eighty years ago.

The Kanyana Bilby Colony

Kanyana usually has between ten and fifteen bilbies at any one time, ranging in age from juveniles only a few months old to mature adults of breeding age and one or two older animals retired from the breeding program. The majority of Kanyana’s bilbies are captive bred, born either at Kanyana or other breeding facilities. Wild bilbies are rarely captured, but when they are, they introduce valuable new genes into the captive breeding population.

Can I see the Kanyana bilbies?

Yes, Kanyana holds regular Nocturnal Tours. Most people will never be lucky enough to see a bilby in the wild, and a Kanyana Nocturnal Tour provides a unique opportunity to see these fascinating animals at night while they are active.