Numbers of re-introduced greater bilbies are thriving in a specially protected region of the Mallee Cliffs National Park, allowing rangers to expand the critically endangered marsupials’ range and plan for more such releases.
Presumed extinct in NSW after once being common, the large-eared animals known as Australia’s Easter Bunny are responding quickly in their new homes in the state’s south-west after about 50 of them were released 18 months ago. The population is now estimated to be at least 118.
“The population is booming and projected to increase to up to 1100 bilbies in Mallee Cliffs alone,” Environment Minister Matt Kean, said.
“It is estimated that feral cats alone kill more than 1.5 billion native animals every year and small- to medium-sized mammals are especially vulnerable, so we need projects like these to remove threats and give our native species a fighting chance.”
The early success of bilbies within a small area of the national park means ecologists can start moving them to a larger 9500-hectare fenced off area that has been cleared of feral predators such as cats and foxes. Similar efforts are under way in the Sturt National Park and the Pilliga State Conservation Area.
“When at full capacity, there will be about 3500 bilbies across the three sites,” Atticus Fleming, deputy secretary of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, said. “The current Australian population is around 9000, so that amounts to about a 35-40 per cent increase to the total.”
Rangers have already re-introduced six threatened species including numbats into the Mallee Cliffs National Park, with plans for the release of six more by 2024.
The government plans to create four more feral-free areas across the state, expanding to 65,000 hectares, or about 230 times the size of Sydney’s Central Business District. One of those, of about 500 hectares, is planned for western Sydney.