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Bilbies released at Arid Recovery to boost population in outback SA

By Gary-Jon Lysaght, Monday October 26, 2020 - 13:49 EDT
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The nine bilbies travelled from an island in the Spencer Gulf to an outback nature reserve. - ABC

A group of bilbies has been released into an outback South Australian nature reserve to boost the park's gene pool.

Nine bilbies — four males and five females — were released into disused burrows throughout Arid Recovery, near Roxby Downs.

"It's been a decade since we had new bilbies brought in here, and the original ones were brought in in the year 2000, so it's good to get some fresh animals," Arid Recovery general manager Katherine Tuft said.

The bilbies were caught on Thistle Island, known for having an overpopulation of bilbies.

"We were hoping to get a little bit more but there were some southerly blusters going on the island, so they weren't able to catch quite as many as we hoped," Dr Tuft said.

"It should still make a good contribution to the gene pool because the population here is fairly low at the moment, so it should add a fair bit."

Dr Tuft said there was no risk of inbreeding in the bilby population at Arid Recovery.

"The more genes in the gene pool, the better equipped the bilbies will be to face any challenge that life throws at them in future," she said.

Fishing for bilbies

Bilbies are fast runners and even modern scientists still use rudimentary ways of catching the animals.

"We just use normal fishing nets for most of our work; when you've got a lot of bilbies around, it is a very productive way of catching a lot of bilbies in a short period of time," Arid Recovery's research scientist Catherine Moseby said.

"Because we've had a drought recently and the population here has declined, it's a really good time to add new animals.

"It's just rained, there's lots of food around, but the population is quite low, so there's hopefully lots of vacant home ranges for them to move into."

Adapting to a new home

University of New South Wales PhD student Brianna Coulter said the bilbies would be monitored using radio transmitters over the next few months to ensure they were adapting to their new environment.

"I'll be radio tracking them to their burrows and where they move over the next few weeks, and I'll be trapping them up a couple of times and seeing how they're going," she said.

"Bilbies are already from the arid zone, so they're naturally adapted to the arid zone.

"While it might be a bit of a surprise at first, from an island to an arid zone, I think they'll quickly get used to it and find their food."


© ABC 2020

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