There are heaps of strange animals in Australia. Sure, most Americans have heard of kangaroos, wallabies, koalas, and emus. The Tasmanian devil is popular thanks to a cartoon, the kookaburra thanks to a children’s song, and most of you probably know the platypus because it looks absolutely ridiculous. Aside from those, there are tons more species which I had never heard of when I arrived. Even most Aussies struggle with these. Just to name a few: wombats, quokkas, bandicoots, potoroos, quolls, dunnarts, numbats, dibblers, tree kangaroos, pademelons, wallaroos, bettongs… and those are just a fraction of the marsupials. Go outside of that grouping and you can find echidnas, cassowaries, goannas… plus all those crazy snake and spider species that I don’t want to mention.
I thought I had heard of them all – at least all of the major ones – but I was proven wrong over Easter weekend. The long holiday weekend was all about one of Australia’s most-adored and critically endangered marsupials: the bilby!
The bilby refers to the Greater Bilby – a small, nocturnal marsupial that formerly could be found nearly continent-wide, but now mainly inhabits some arid desert areas of Western Australia and a few small pockets of Northern Territory and Queensland. There are estimated to be only a few hundred bilbies left in the wild as they have encountered challenges such as habitat loss, competition from introduced rabbits, and predation by introduced foxes and feral cats. A second bilby species – the Lesser Bilby – has been extinct since the 1950’s. Bilbies are about the size of rabbits, and because they have long ears, slightly resemble rabbits – though, really they resemble more of a rabbit/rat combination if you ask me.
There are several conservation groups devoted to the bilby either directly (Save the Bilby Fund) or indirectly (Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia – which focuses on eradicating rabbits for a variety of reasons including rabbits’ harm to bilby populations). There’s even a National Bilby Day every year on the second Sunday in September. These groups have set up bilby breeding programs and have successfully reintroduced the species into conservation areas with predator-proof fences.
Spreading awareness of the bilby’s plight hits an annual high around Easter. For decades now, conservation groups and others have been promoting a different character around Easter time. Move over Easter Bunny – the Easter Bilby is here in Australia! The Easter Bilby is thought to have first been invented in the 1960’s, but it didn’t really show up on most Aussies’ radars until the 1990’s. The Easter Bilby is the perfect alternative to the Easter Bunny in Australia because (1) it still looks a bit like a bunny rabbit (2) walks on 4 legs and burrows into the ground just like a rabbit (3) is a native species which can help give a bit of local pride to Australians and (4) isn’t a rabbit. Rabbits are an introduced species and massive pest here in Australia, so there’s really no reason to glorify them at all. Also, just like rabbits, magicians can pull bilbies out of a hat!
The Easter Bilby’s rise to popularity in the 1990’s was primarily caused by two factors. The first was a new series of Easter Bilby books.
Most important is the second reason for the Easter Bilby’s rise to fame: the Chocolate Easter Bilby! Haigh’s Chocolate was the first to introduce the Chocolate Easter Bilby in 1991. A portion of the proceeds went to (and still go to) the Foundation for a Rabbit Free Australia, as well as other projects such as sponsoring the bilby exhibit at the Adelaide Zoo.
It wasn’t long before other Australian chocolate-makers and chocolatiers caught on. Darrell Lea Chocolates – the largest Australian-owned chocolate-maker – began selling their chocolate bilbies in 1999 with proceeds going to the Save the Bilby Fund. Move over Hershey’s, Cadbury, and even Lindt and Godiva! Your chocolate Easter bunnies have nothing on the Chocolate Easter Bilbies here in Australia!
The Easter Bilby first caught my attention when in the Haigh’s Chocolate shop in Adelaide. Of course, I hadn’t heard of it until then, but I knew I just had to buy one. There are many reasons to want to save the bilby, but none can get my attention just like the delicious chocolate reason.
OMG – LIZ – PUT THE BILBY DOWN NOW! I AIN’T AFRAID TO CUT A BITCH!
Ok, that’s better. Phew!
Now this is really where the chocolate bilby belongs!
I’m so sexy when I’m inhaling chocolate. Whatever. Happy Easter, bilbies!
p.s. This is my 100th post! Is anyone reading this???