Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Under the cover of darkness in remote outback Queensland, one of Australia’s most critically endangered marsupials, the bilby, has taken a small leap back from the brink.

Key points:

  • More than 30 bilbies have been translocated 2,200kms from outback Queensland to the Northern Territory
  • Fenced enclosures at Currawinya National Park and Newhaven are helping to protect the critically endangered animals
  • The program aims to restore the bilby population that once occupied 70 per cent of the Australian mainland

From Currawinya National Park, near Hungerford, 1,000 kilometres west of Brisbane, 34 precious bilbies have been translocated to a new home in the Northern Territory's Great Sandy Desert.

The enormous undertaking involved flying the bilbies more than 2,200 kilometres to Newhaven Reserve, north-west of Alice Springs.

The mission was a joint project involving the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), the Save The Bilby Fund and the Queensland and Northern Territory governments.

It was one step towards the national recovery plan to have 10,000 bilbies held securely as genetic insurance for the next 100 years.

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Kevin Bradley is fighting for the bilby.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle Lancaster)

Save the Bilby Fund chief executive Kevin Bradley said he was determined the animals would not become extinct, and the translocation was intended to help prevent that. 

“Sadly, Australia has got an appalling mammal extinction record and we are absolutely determined to make sure the bilby doesn't join the inevitable list, certainly not on my watch,” he said.

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

The bilby fence within Currawinya National Park is estimated to be home to over 300 bilbies. (ABC Western Qld: Danielle Lancaster)

Save the Bilby Fund and QPWS have been breeding bilbies within the fenced enclose in the Currawinya National Park for more than 20 years.

Wildlife ecologist with AWC Alexandra Ross said the Currawinya bilbies were chosen because they were a healthy population.

Ms Ross believed if humans acted now, more animals and plants could be saved.

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Bilbies once occupied 70 per cent of Australia's mainland. (Supplied: Save the Bilby Fund)

“If we don’t do anything, it’s just only going to get worse, and catastrophic extinction is inevitable.”

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Alexandra Ross from the Australian Wildlife Conservancy setting a bilby trap in Currawinya National Park.(ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons)

Traps were gently set with a seed mix to lure the nocturnal marsupial in.

Field scientists then carefully took the trapped bilbies and placed them in a pouch for transporting to a pop-up vet clinic set on the red sand amongst the mulga.

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Bilbies are carefully placed in a pouch for transporting to a pop-up vet clinic.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle Lancaster)

The hum of a generator broke the night’s silence as vets carefully checked each bilby for the long flight.

Wildlife veterinarian Jon Hanger said the process was quick and not painful.

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Dr John Hanger finishes a vet check on a healthy male bilby.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle Lancaster)

“It takes thirty seconds to a minute for the bilbies to go to sleep,” Dr Hanger said.

“The whole thing is finished in about five to ten minutes.”

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

The headquarters inside a predator fence at Currawinya National Park.(ABC Western Qld: Craig Fitzsimmons)

For the bilbies, the battle for survival continues.

“It’s a pretty big deal, but really good to see, and they are going to a great home and really good people, so that’s all that matters,” Mr Bradley said.

“They will be well managed and that’s what it’s all about, more bilbies.”

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Bill Mitchell from AWC Newhaven carries the bilbies from Currawinya to the plane.(ABC Western Qld: Danielle Lancaster)

As the last bilby was loaded onto the Cessna Conquest, Mr Bradley admitted he was a bit emotional. He paused as he passed the last bilby to Dallas, the pilot.

“Farewell Currawinya bilbies, go off and multiply,” he said.

Bilbies translocated from Currawinya National Park to Great Sandy Desert boost hopes for species' survival

Alice Nampijinpa Henwood and Lee Nangala Gallagher welcomed the first greater bilbies to Newhaven earlier this year.(Supplied: Australian Wildlife Conservancy )

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