Sanctuary will be a new lifeline for bilbies

Dubbo’s Taronga Western Plains Zoo has commenced development of a 110-hectare breeding sanctuary for the Greater Bilby in a bid to re-introduce them back into the wild in late 2019, Environment Minister Gabrielle Upton announced today.

The bilby (Macrotis lagotis) is presumed extinct in NSW

This is a significant step in the Wild Deserts project, which will bring back seven locally extinct mammals to Sturt National Park which hasn’t been seen for more than a century in NSW.

“The breeding sanctuary is an extraordinary development that will make a nationally significant contribution to wildlife and environmental conservation,” Ms Upton said.

“This sanctuary shows why NSW is well on its way to becoming a global centre of excellence in wildlife conservation and education.”

Next year ten Greater Bilbies will be introduced to the sanctuary following the installation of fencing and clearing of feral predators.

UNSW scientist and Director for the UNSW Centre for Ecosystem Science Professor Richard Kingsford, the Wild Deserts project lead, said that the Wild Deserts project was a ground-breaking conservation opportunity.

“The Greater Bilby is a delicate but vital desert survivor. By digging for insects, seeds and plant roots, they help water and carbon infiltrate the soil, which in turn will trigger a restoration of Sturt National Park’s desert ecosystems,” Professor Kingsford said.

“By restoring the native wildlife over the next 10 years, we will turn the desert around.”

The Wild Deserts project is a partnership between the Office of Environment and Heritage, the University of NSW Sydney and Ecological Horizons, in collaboration with Taronga Conservation Society Australia. The Greater Bilby breeding sanctuary at Taronga Western Plains Zoo has been made possible through a major philanthropic donation to the Taronga Foundation.

The Greater Bilby breeding sanctuary is part of a NSW Government $41.3 million Rewilding project. The Australian Wildlife Conservancy and UNSW are also reintroducing locally extinct mammals, including Greater Bilbies from the sanctuary, into Mallee Cliffs National Park and the Pilliga State Conservation Area.

“This is one of the world’s most significant biodiversity reconstruction projects – it aims to turn back the tide of mammal extinctions in Australia,” Australian Wildlife Conservancy Chief Executive Atticus Fleming said.