Endangered Species Breeding
Bilby Breeding Programme
What is a bilby?
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 programme?
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 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.
|Checking the health of one of the bilbies in the Kanyana breeding programme||Pouch inspection - twins, at approximately 6 weeks in the pouch|
How is the breeding programme 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, in an outer suburb of Perth, Western Australia. The Kanyana Bilby Breeding Programme is conducted under the guidance of the WA Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC) and receives funding under DEC's Western Shield Programme. However, the day to day running of the Kanyana Bilby Breeding Programme depends entirely on volunteers. A large number of volunteers are involved in caring for the Kanyana bilbies, working two shifts per day, every day of the year.
In any animal captive breeding programme it is important to maintain the greatest possible genetic diversity within the population. The bilbies in the Kanyana breeding programme are paired according to recommendations made by the Bilby Studbook Keeper with the Australasian Regional Association of Zoological Parks and Aquaria (ARAZPA). The Studbook Keeper maintains the genetic records of all the bilbies in the captive breeding programme 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.
Checking the health of one of the bilbies in the Kanyana breeding programme Pouch inspection - twins, at approximately 6 weeks in the pouch
History of the Kanyana Bilby Breeding Programme
The Kanyana bilby breeding programme commenced in 1996 with the arrival at Kanyana of the first breeding pair, Bet-Bet and Basil. Since then more than 130 bilbies have passed through Kanyana. The Kanyana bilby breeding programme has succeeded in producing over 85 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 DEC'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.
NEWS FROM THE KANYANA BILBY BREEDING PROGRAMME
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 programme.
Four baby bilbies were born at Kanyana during 2007. The babies included two males and two females, including one set of twins proudly produced by Meeka and Malik. The twins were aptly named Bublee and Deedjaa (Aboriginal words meaning "brother" and "sister").
On a very exciting note Jalalay, a wild juvenile female found at Fitzroy Crossing in late 2006, produced her first offspring, a particularly large and very healthy baby boy named Pindellup (which means "a lot of digging"), fathered by Marran.
The fourth baby bilby for 2007, a girl named Nanga (which means Sun) was born to Karlang and Boya.
In July 2007 Groucho celebrated his eighth birthday, becoming the oldest bilby ever housed at Kanyana. (The average bilby lifespan in captivity is between six and seven years, although the age record for a bilby held in captivity currently stands at nine years and seven months!)
Other happenings during 2007 included the transfer of two females (Kimberley and Jandoo) to the Monarto breeding centre in South Australia.
Two older animals (Danny Boy and Djinda) were retired from the Kanyana breeding programme and transferred to the Perth Zoo.
In early December 2007, DEC sent an injured female bilby to Kanyana for rehabilitation, from the Lorna Glen release site approximately 1100km north-east of Perth. Born at Dryandra, the female had been one of a group of bilbies released at Lorna Glen by DEC in August 2007. Follow-up monitoring of the released animals discovered the female with a serious leg injury, and carrying a large pouch-young. In a very poor condition when she arrived at Kanyana, "Lorna" surprised everyone by recovering from her injuries and carrying her pouch-young to full-term. A small but very healthy baby boy "Glen" emerged from his mother's pouch on New Years Day 2008.
|Meeka and twins Bublee & Djeedjaa - 1 Oct 07||Old man Groucho (29/7/1999 – 1/1/2008)|
On the same day that Glen emerged from his mother's pouch, sadly old man Groucho died peacefully in his sleep. He was eight and a half years old.
On a happier note, 2008 saw the birth of another three baby bilbies at Kanyana. Jalalay and Marran produced their second offspring, a girl named Nwiri (an Aboriginal word meaning "good"). Meeka and Pindellup produced a boy, named Djarryl (which means "Jarrah"), and Biara and Yandari produced a girl named Djindely (which means "grey").
Five bilbies, three males and two females were transferred away from Kanyana during 2008. These included three young animals, female Djeedja and males Bublee and Pinjah, who were transferred to other breeding centres in Adelaide, Alice Springs and Peron. Young male Glen was transferred to DEC's soft-release site at the Dryandra woodland, and older female Karlang was retired from the breeding programme and transferred to Melbourne Zoo.
In early December 2008, a very skinny and undernourished wild juvenile female bilby, found abandoned by its mother, was brought to Kanyana from Warburton, a remote community near the WA/SA/NT border. This was a very exciting event, as wild bilbies are rarely captured, and they introduce valuable new genes into the captive breeding population. The little bilby was named Wilgee by the couple who kindly offered to transport her most of the way from Warburton to Perth. After being hand-reared for a few weeks following her arrival at Kanyana, Wilgee completely recovered from her ordeal and she will join the Kanyana bilby breeding programme, once she reaches maturity (at approximately one year of age).
Biara's baby girl Djindely 18-Jan-2009 Meeka's baby boy Djarryl 20-Dec-2008
Looking ahead to 2009
Following further releases from DEC's Dryandra enclosures during 2008, more Kanyana-bred bilbies are likely to be transferred to Dryandra during 2009.
Kanyana's move to new premises at Paxwold, planned for mid 2009, will provide more and much larger enclosures for the bilby breeding programme. The additional enclosure space will allow for more pairings, and so we are hoping for lots of baby bilbies in 2009!
For more information about bilbies, including the Return to Dryandra Project, and the Barna Mia visitors' centre at Dryandra, visit the DEC website at: http://www.dec.wa.gov.au/