The Easter Bilby

The Australian Easter tradition that’s helping a beloved animal bounce back

Move over Easter Bunny, there’s a new celebrity creature in town. Because in Australia, it’s all about the Easter Bilby when autumn comes around (that’s right, Easter comes towards the end of summer in the southern hemisphere).

Australia has a complicated history with bunnies. Rabbits weren’t a native species and were brought to the country by the Europeans in 1788. When they were released into the wild for hunting purposes they became pests and caused huge amounts of environmental damage. Given this, it’s no surprise that folks in Australia weren’t too keen on the idea of the bunny being an emblem of Easter. Enter the bilby.

The bilby, also known as the rabbit-eared bandicoot, is a small marsupial with long ears, a pointy snout, a black and white tail, and greyish fur. As a marsupial, it also carries its young in a pouch at the front of its stomach. Around 100 years ago, bilbies were a common sight and could be found across more than 70% of mainland Australia. Now, they’re considered a vulnerable species nationally, but in the Queensland region where there are estimated to be only 600 bilbies left in the wild, they’re endangered. The bilby is hunted by cats and foxes, and also driven out of their burrows by rabbits.

Great Bilby by Howard Hughes (From the collection of Australian Museum)

In 1968, a young girl called Rose-Marie Dusting wrote a story called Billy the Aussie Easter Bilby, which she then later published as a book to boost the nation’s appreciation of the rapidly-disappearing animal. In 1991, the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia (FDA) began pushing the concept further to helps increase awareness of the bilby’s dwindling numbers.

With the backing of several major confectionery companies, the organization now helps raise money for the bilby’s conservation. Proceeds from the sale of chocolate bilbies go towards the Save The Bilby Fund, which aims to grow the marsupial’s population by breeding bilbies in captivity and then releasing them into a safely fenced off area in the wild.

Since the first Easter Bilby story appeared, other children’s authors have also helped perpetuate the tale, including author Jeni Bright’s story of Burra Nimu, the Easter Bilby, who gives painted eggs to children to ask them for their help to save the land from rabbits.

According to the conservation charity Arid Recovery, in South Australia, where the Bilby was once completely extinct, it’s estimated that there are now 1,500 bilbies back in the wild.

Discover more Easter traditions you didn't know about:

Easter Egg Hunts
Chocolate Eggs and Bunnies

Words by Hollie Jones
Credits: All media
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