The Bilby is a very cute little creature, native to Australia. This small burrowing bandicoot used to be found in its millions, living across 70% of our country. Sadly over the past 200 years settlement and clearing, plus the introduction of rabbits, foxes and feral cats, pushed this animal almost to extinction – in fact, entirely to extinction in South Australia.
The Easter Bilby
Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia (RFA) is a non-profit organisation established to raise community awareness of the damage to the environment done by the wild rabbit, and find ways to get rid of all the wild rabbits in this country. In 1991 RFA developed and registered the Easter Bilby campaign to raise awareness of the damage done by rabbits to native wildlife, and to raise money from royalties of Easter Bilby to fund their research programs.
In 1993, we joined forces with them. Haigh’s Chocolates stopped making chocolate bunnies and made Australia’s very first Easter Bilbies – an immediate hit with our customers. For nearly twenty years at Easter we offer large and small Bilbies in both milk and dark chocolate, with part proceeds from every sale donated to RFA for their very important work.
The Bilby’s Bouncing Back
Thanks to increased awareness and lots of hard work by a number of organisations and government departments, the Bilby is starting to make a comeback. In South Australia, where the Bilby was once extinct, there are now estimated to be over 1500 Bilbies back in the wild.
Sponsoring Bilbies at the Adelaide Zoo
Over the years Haigh’s Chocolates has become more and more involved with this very worthwhile cause, partnering with Adelaide Zoo to draw public attention to the plight of the Bilby.
We’re very proud to be major sponsors of the zoo’s purpose-built Bilby exhibit, which is part of the nocturnal house. It’s a comfy open-plan environment for the Bilbies so you can get a peek at how they live in their natural habitat. Since the exhibit opened, many healthy baby Bilbies have been born at the zoo – a great success for this important breeding program and good news for the future of the species.
Our involvement with the Arid Recovery Project
The Arid Recovery Project is centred around a fenced reserve in northern South Australia. All feral cats, rabbits and foxes were eradicated, and so far, 4 species of locally extinct mammals have been reintroduced, including the bilby. This project, established in 1997, is a unique example of a highly successful partnership between industry, government, education and community. Haigh’s has contributed to the research and monitoring of the reintroduced Bilbies, in 2005 providing support for their radio tagging project.
Bilby vs Rabbit
Part of the reason the Bilby almost became extinct is because of competition with the rabbit. Both the native Bilby and the introduced rabbit have quite a lot in common:
• both are small burrowing animals
• feeding on seeds, bulbs and natural vegetation (the Bilby also eats insects, especially termites)
• they give birth to multiple young
• and they are quadrupedal (moving on four feet)
National Recovery Plan
The Bilby is protected throughout Australia, wherever it occurs. However, most wild Bilby populations exist in remote areas – on private pastoral land or aboriginal reserves – where effective measures to protect it have been difficult.
A National Recovery Plan has been developed by the Department of Environment and Heritage to ensure the survival of the bilby. The plan focuses on –
• managing the Bilby’s remaining habitat
• monitoring existing populations
• breeding in captivity
• re-establishing Bilbies in areas where they previously occurred.
Monarto Zoological Park has been working with the Department of Environment and Heritage as part of this Recovery Plan. Bilbies collected from other parts of Australia are bred at Monarto, to provide animals which are then released into the wild in South Australia.
A Symbol of Hope
The Bilby and its struggle for survival is symbolic of the plight of many of our small native animals. Australians are concerned about our disappearing native species, and as public awareness grows, it’s been suggested we adopt the Bilby as the wildlife symbol of Easter in Australia. This would help promote education about conservation, and increase national pride in our wildlife.
How You Can Help
Every Easter, make sure you avoid chocolate bunnies like the plague and buy a Haigh’s chocolate Bilby instead. Every time you do, you’ll be helping us save this precious little Australian marsupial. And if you’d like to find out more about all the good work being done to save the Bilby, please visit: