Happy Easter and the Chocolate Bilby
In many parts of the Christian World, Easter commemorates the crucifixion of the Prophet Jesus Christ and celebrates his resurrection. People give eggs as a symbol of life and Jesus’ resurrection.
To the delight of children, chocolate eggs have become one of the traditional Easter eggs, and to the delight of many adults as well. Over time the giving of chocolate rabbits has also become popular, who doesn’t enjoy biting the ears off of a chocolate Easter bunny.
Many discussions have occurred over previous Easters, as to the connection between eggs and rabbits, as rabbits don’t lay eggs. Although rabbits do give birth to large litters, a symbol of life. It probably comes under ‘don’t over think it’ and please pass me some more chocolate.
In Australia in the 1990s environmentally minded entrepreneurs thought of the idea of introducing a chocolate native animal as an alternative to the Easter bunny, with part proceeds from sales going to native animal research and protection.
The Bilby Macrotis lagotis was chosen, it is an Australian native marsupial, and is endangered. It is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
Because of the great environmental destruction caused by European rabbits, they aren’t held in very high esteem in Australia. Great efforts have gone into discovering suitable biological control agents.
In 1950 the myxomatosis virus was released into the rabbit population reducing rabbit numbers by 95%. The remaining 5% had resistance and bred, so in 1996 the calicivirus was released, and together with other ongoing control measures, such as baiting and ripping warrens, it has resulted in about a 90% reduction in the rabbit population.
The bilby was once found across 70% of Australia. They occur now in the desert regions of Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia. Their long pink ears and soft grey fur make them an appealing animal and are about the size of a domestic cat. They dig burrows like European rabbits and are nocturnal.
They eat root tubers, spiders, termites, witchetty grubs (moth) and fungi.
Their main threats are competition from introduced grazing animals including the rabbit, and predation by foxes and feral cats.
Like many Australian species they are dependent on fire to renew growth of vegetation. The traditional fire patterns have been disrupted and the reintroduction of small patch burning to form a mosaic of burnt and unburnt habitat is needed.
I think chocolate bilbies are only available in Australia, so this Easter maybe spare a thought for other animals in your area that people are protecting.
Happy Easter wonderful reader, may you have many blessings, eggs, rabbits and possibly even a bilby.
Declaration of competing interest. I have no conflicts of interest to disclose.
Bush Heritage www.bushheritage.org.au