There are only about 600 bilbies left in the deserts of Australia. These big-eared marsupials, also known as rabbit-eared bandicoots, thrived Down Under until European settlers arrived in the late 18th century, bringing with them rabbits, which were released into the wild for hunting. These days, the bilby is endangered, a victim of the foxes and feral cats that prey on them, and the rabbits that drive them from their burrows. Australians have tried to help, and in recent years the bilby has become a symbol of Easter, with chocolate bilby treats preferred by many, instead of chocolate bunnies. A portion of the sale of chocolate bilbies goes toward their preservation.
Hopping down the bilby trail:
- The idea to replace the Easter Bunny began in 1968 when a 9-year-old Queensland girl wrote a story called “Billy the Aussie Easter Bilby,” which she went on to publish as an adult.
- The story sparked the public's interest in saving the bilby, and by 1991, the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia had begun a campaign to replace the Easter Bunny with the Easter Bilby.
- Wild rabbits are a serious problem in Australia. Unsuccessful control attempts have included building fences (rabbits jumped over, or burrowed under) and releasing a deadly virus in 1950, which worked until genetic resistance foiled the plan.