Wednesday 23 September 2020

Greater bilbies are to learn how to be frightened of feral cats

In a NSW conservation programme the Australian authorities are going to put greater bilbies into an enclosure where there are a limited number of feral cats. Those which learn to survive will then procreate and teach their offspring to survive in a landscape where there are feral cats. The objective is to create a large enough group of greater bilbies with an inherent fear of feral cats and the means to avoid them so that they can be released into the wild in Australia and survive.

Great bilby atTaronga Zoo. Photo Rhett WymanCREDIT:
RHETT WYMANAdd caption

The experts are calling it "accelerated evolution". It's a reference to the fact that this small native marsupial species did not have time, they think, to evolve avoidance skills of predators such as feral cats. They are giving them the chance to evolve quickly and develop that skill so that they can prosper in an environment where there are too many feral cats according to the authorities.

It's another take on how to protect native species. The authorities believe you either kill the predators or you train the prey animals or both at which point the prey animal has a greater chance of survival in the wild.

It had been thought that greater bilbies were extinct in the wild in New South Wales. They are rabbit-sized marsupials. The plan kicks off by placing 10 bilbies, five of each sex, into a 2,000 ha enclosure, within the Sturt National Park, which is free of feral cats and other predators (I presume). This small group of ten were bred in a zoo and selected to be as wild as possible. Once they have bred in their 2000 ha enclosure they will be placed with feral cats into a much larger Wildlife Training Zone within the National Park. The government is backing the program to the tune of AU$8 is expected that it will take two years before the animals are released into the wild as I understand it. They are fast breeders!

Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

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