Breeding program bringing bilbies back from the brink

After disappearing in New South Wales for more than a century, the great bilby is making a comeback.

Bilbies were once present in 70% of Australia, but until recently marsupials were absent from the wilds of the state.

Yet NSW is now seeing a resurgence of these nocturnal desert dwellers with long ears and silky, blue-gray fur thanks to Taronga Western Plains Zooof the great bilby conservation breeding program in Dubbo.

Zookeepers and conservation officers last week ventured to the 110-hectare Taronga Sanctuary in Dubbo to check on the breeding program.

The population is usually left to reproduce naturally so that the creatures can become genetically and behaviorally robust before being released.

But every night for the past week, conservation officers have assessed the health of the population and selected the bilbies ready to take the leap into the wild.

Big bilby keeper Steve Kleinig said more than 70 traps had been set to lure the bilbies into a safe confined area for weighing and health checks.

What they found was great news for the recovery of native species.

“Almost all of the females checked had joeys in their pouches and all of the people we checked were in excellent physical condition,” he said.

Taronga Conservation Society Australia CEO Cameron Kerr said the species is “thriving in this very special environment”.

In the coming weeks, more than 30 bilbies from the sanctuary will be released into the Newhaven Wildlife Sanctuary in Central Australia.

In the safety of the 9450 hectare area free from wild predators, bilbies will be able to re-establish their presence in the semi-arid region and help secure the future of their species.

This is the second release of bilbies from the Taronga Sanctuary, with 10 bilbies released into Sturt National Park in September.

The first release came 11 months after the founding population of bilby arrived at Taronga Sanctuary.

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