Learning from the experts how to save the Bilby


p2342-Bilby-festThe contribution of Indigenous rangers across Northern Territory and Western Australia to saving Australia’s iconic Bilby from extinction is being acknowledged at a summit in the remote Gibson Desert, Western Australia. A first of its kind the event will further explore the connections between western scientific and Indigenous ecological knowledge in ensuring the survival of the Bilby in the desert.
At right: Indigenous Ranger and Kiwirrkurra traditional owner Sally Napurula Butler visiting the Bilbies at the Alice Springs Desert Park. Photo by Lisa Hatzimihail.
In the past 100 years, due to human impact and feral predators (cats, foxes) the range of the Bilby has shrunk by 80 per cent. Today only small scattered populations can be found in the Australian desert, mainly in land that is still owned and looked after by Indigenous land managers.
The Indigenous Desert Alliance (IDA) – a regional collaborative of Indigenous land management groups in across the WA/NT and SA deserts – is supporting the event because of the global environmental importance of Bilby conservation, and its significance to Indigenous people.
The inaugural Ninu (the Pintupi word for Bilby) Festival is being held this month on the Kiwirrkurra Indigenous Protected Area, home to a healthy Bilby population. The event will bring together more than 120 Indigenous rangers from 20 different ranger groups, internationally respected scientists, philanthropic conservation organisations and key government representatives to share ideas, experiences and discuss the latest research into managing Bilbies.
The three-day event will also celebrate the cultural significance of the Bilby to desert Indigenous groups, collate information from all groups about the status of Bilby populations in their regions, trial the use of drones to survey Bilbies, promote the use of Indigenous tracking expertise, experiment with the new Feral Cat Grooming Trap and many other innovative initiatives.
Indigenous Ranger Sally Napurula Butler said the Kiwirrkurra community was excited about holding the festival there: “We are looking forward to showing all the rangers from other communities how we look after Ninu – setting up cameras at burrows, hunting cats, and making little fires so when it rains lots of grass seeds grow up for Ninu.”
Wildlife Ecologist Dr Rachel Paltridge who assists the Kiwirrkurra Rangers with their Bilby management program is optimistic about the future of the Bilby in Australia if we make the right choices and investment in people and management now for the future.
“Through the Indigenous Ranger Programs and Indigenous Protected Areas, we are building terrific capacity out on the ground where Bilbies still occur. At least 120 Rangers are already engaged in Bilby monitoring programs and ready and willing to help protect this species, but that’s across a truly massive area of millions and millions of hectares.  If we can ensure that everyone has the best available information and sufficient training and resources to implement management programs we will be in a really good position to save the Bilby, not just behind fences but out in the wild.”


  1. The Indigenous Rangers up here have been involved in this for a while now but sadly, the bilbies themselves aren’t going well.
    Numbers across the Barkly built up very quickly after the big floods about five years back apparently drowned a lot of the moggies.
    We still had several hundred within 10km of town until about a year ago but they’re all gone. The rangers hadn’t even seen a track since early this year.
    We found a small population on the weekend 75km out of town but they’re doomed – there’s enough warm bodies to put a cat-proof fence around them but that will be reliant on funding.
    Don’t forget we’ll be asking the same people who proudly brought you Port Melville for the money so we’re not confident.

  2. Peter. Inconveniently, the people of Kiwirrkurra have not assimilated the concepts of protecting native species.
    It is very likely that assisting these hunter gatherers to locate a much prized food source – the Bilby (Ninu) is directly connected to the local extinction of them.
    The Indigenous rangers may not personally hunt them but relatives of theirs almost certainly will.
    The Kiwirkurra community managers need to ensure that equipment such as back hoes are well supervised as these have long been used to unearth the Ninu from deep in their spiral burrows.


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