Secret of the Cave is a 2006 student film by the School of Visual Art and Design at Southern Adventist University. Cast: Niall O'Brien, Maria McDermottroe, Niamh Finn, Jim Roche, Kevin Novotny, Patrick Bergin, Zach C. Easter Bilbies are an increasingly popular alternative to the traditional chocolate rabbit.
Bilbies' huge ears enable them to hear well even with their head down in the soil looking for food.
The Greater Bilby (Macrotis lacotis) now only survives in scattered patches amongst the spinifex and mulga of the northern desert areas of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. With huge rabbit ears and soft grey fur it's easy to see the resemblance to rabbits, but that's where it ends.
Bilby ears are almost naked, which Friend believes may be for temperature regulation, but because the research hasn't been done we don't actually know for sure.
One thing that scientists studying bilbies do agree on is the variability in behaviour between bilby populations living in different conditions around Australia. A useful trait for living in arid conditions is their ability to obtain all the water they need from food, which means that bilbies can get by without creeks or waterholes.
In desert areas, bilbies often keep to themselves, digging simple burrows which spiral down up to two metres. Females tend to stay in a smallish area around their burrows, while males may wander a few kilometres at night, looking for a bit of "female company". When: Bilbies are opportunistic breeders waiting until conditions are good, rather than particular seasons.
Where: In the wild, bilbies are now limited to patches of the northern desert areas of NT and WA. Females only come into season under good conditions which, in desert areas, depends on rain and food supply.
Currawinya NP Ranger Peter McRae, a founder of the Save the Bilby Fund, loves his work at the Charleville breeding centre!


The bilby's last main wild stronghold is in Aboriginal lands of the Tanami, Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts area of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Bilbies can hold their own against natural predators like pythons, raptors, dingoes and quolls.
While bilby burrows were always important as refuges for a range of natives- reptiles and other small marsupials, they are often taken over by rabbits and cats. Released bilbies have spread well through the 13,000ha Dryandra Woodland in WA and seem to be coping with predators.
The Arid Recovery project in the harsh regions around Roxby Downs is trialling another innovative approach to the feral problem. If you're really lucky you may see a bilby in the wild- but remember, bilbies are nocturnal and extremely shy. Or you could just look out for the Chocolate Bilby this Easter, with the extra bonus that your guilty enjoyment could help fund efforts to save an endangered species.
With thanks to all the people and groups mentioned through the article and many more, particularly Colleen O'Malley of the WWF Threatened Species Network and Rick Southgate. But the real bilbies are much harder to find - living secretive lives in isolated deserts across Australia, waiting for the right conditions to start a family. They've adopted different diets, burrows, breeding habits and social networks, and this adaptability has been the key to their survival. Combined with their nocturnal lifestyle and deep burrows, their habits have allowed them to survive in arid areas, staying cool in summer and warm in winter, whilst avoiding many predators. Only emerging in the dark, they stay close to any of a dozen or more burrows they may have in an area, ready to bolt down one if their sensitive ears detect a possible threat.
Under more favourable conditions, they may live in larger loose groups with more complex warrens.
In breeding colonies established in temperate areas they tend to adapt to seasonal patterns. The female has usually mated again, and the new neonate crawls into the pouch not long after the joey has left.


Like many animals that produce young quickly to take advantage of good conditions, there's a fairly high attrition rate and only about 25% will survive to breeding age. Various communities through the area are working with the Threatened Species Network to carry out survey and monitoring activities, and control feral predators. This 1000 km² peninsula forms the west side of Shark Bay and has been fenced off at its neck from the rest of Australia in an attempt to reconstruct an entire ecosystem in the aptly named Project Eden.
Proceeds from the sale of some Easter Bilbies are used by the Save the Bilby Fund to publicise and fund breeding projects around Australia. But to give bilbies a fair chance of survival in the wild, it's vital to eliminate as many feral predators as possible before releases into the wild.
Part of their success is due to a local plant which produces a selective poison which kills introduced animals, but not natives. After recently discovering that a group of bilbies released into the wild were killed by predators, they came up with the unusual idea of training the marsupials to avoid cats, with excellent results with bilbies in breeding programs. They have sensitive noses which they use to sniff out bulbs, seeds, fungi, fruit, grubs, termites, insects, spiders and lizards.
They're also expert excavators, and if caught out in the open they can disappear from sight within three minutes in sandy soil.
Warlpiri people from Yuendumu have recently tested an ingenious new fox-baiting device that promises to be safe for dingoes, bilbies, goannas and birds.
Alongside the dolphins of Monkey Mia, as many as possible of the original range of native animals - including the bilby - are being successfully re-introduced. Poison Bush (Gastrolobium microcarpum) occurs throughout the South-West and consequently native mammals are tolerant to the poison. The breeding program is going so well that more releases are planned around the South-West and up into the drier areas.



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