Australia’s Easter Bilby

| April 17, 2014

This weekend, countless children in Australia will look forward to the Easter bunny hiding chocolate eggs. Nicolas Newman from the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia explains why he wants us to kick the Easter bunny habit.

Easter is a special time for most people, with religious, cultural and social significance. Paradoxically in Australia, one of the ways we celebrate it is by extraordinary exposure and in some places, adulation of an animal that has had as much negative impact on Australia’s landscapes over a long period as any other agency, be it fire, flood or poorly thought through landuse practicesThat agent of massive change is an animal introduced to Australia in the 19th century that took about 70 years to spread and colonise the continent; the European wild rabbit. The cost of rabbits to Australia’s declining native animal and plant wealth has not been calculated as it is too difficult. How you put a monetary value on the extinction of native animal and plant species? The cost to primary industries impacted by rabbits since introduction has been estimated at $700,000,000,000 and the threat continues and in many places it’s increasing.

One of the many native animals whose habitat was devastated by rabbits was the bilby. Bilbies were common in many parts of Australia and as with so many of their marsupial cousins, they are extinct in the wild.  In some ways they are like the rabbit; about the same size, burrowing and living in communities and with big ears. That is where the comparison should end. They belong here as part of our ecosystems and the rabbit is an invader, albeit a highly successful one.

The Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia (RFA for short) was established by a group of concerned individuals in South Australia in 1992. Its purpose is to raise money for research into this enormous problem of rabbits and also to raise general awareness about the impact of rabbits and the way in which they have changed and continue to change landscapes of Australia that are part of our history and culture. That’s where the Easter Bilby comes in!

RFA has been promoting the bilby as a symbol and a means of getting people to think what things could be like if only the bilby had the similar sort of recognition we’ve perversely given the rabbit. The Easter Bilby is RFA’s trademark and its use is licensed to Haigh’s Chocolates. Haighs has been ‘rabbit free’ for over 10 years having made the decision that making and selling Easter Bilbies as distinct from Easter bunnies is a responsible as well as a commercial decision. The licence fee paid by Haighs to RFA helps to fund research into how best to deal with Australia’s number one vertebrate pest for our benefit and the benefit of Australia’s native plants and animals.

For your Easter, kick the Easter bunny habit and do your bit by looking for, promoting and buying Easter Bilbies. The Australian environment and our farmers will thank you. Also checkout the RFA website at http://www.rfa.org.au/ and make a donation.

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