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Bilby fence at Currawinya National Park
The Queensland bilby population is the most threatened and genetically distinct population in Australia. It has declined in range during the past 10 years and is continuing to do so. Peter has been tracking this population since 1988 and alarmingly, noted its steady decline. He decided the only way to secure a population of bilbies from cats and foxes was to build a fenced enclosure and discussed this with Frank. Together they co-founded Save the Bilby Fund in 1999.
Peter decided to build the fence at Currawinya National Park near Cunnamulla and estimated it would cost $500,000 to build a 25sq km electrified predator-proof fence. Frank and Peter discussed how the money could be raised. Frank came up with the idea that by selling panels of the fence, he would encourage the community to feel that they were actively involved in helping to save this species. Many thousands of panels have been sold.
Currawinya National Park falls close to the centre of the bilby’s former range in eastern Australia. Weather conditions there provide a reliable and diverse food supply. The reintroduction of bilbies to this park forms part of a national strategy to recover endangered species to either their former status or at a minimum to secure the status of existing wild populations.
Currawinya's bilby fence
What makes the fence work are the parts you may not notice
- A 400mm wire netting “skirt” at the base of the fence on each side blocks invaders from burrowing in and Bilbies burrowing out under the fence.
- 4100 short “springy” wires pull the netting across to create a “floppy top” which stops foxes and cats climbing over.
- 5000 volts of electricity pulse through six surrounding wires, preventing emus and kangaroos from crashing into and damaging the netting.
- 2 million staples used in fence and all put in by hand
- 4100 steal pegs
- 240kms of plain high tensile wire used in fence
- 40kms of galvanised netting
- 40kms of foot netting
Opening of the bilby fence
The Bilby Fence at Currawinya National Park was officially opened in 2003. Frank and Peter invited all panel of fence holders to join them in celebrating this momentus occasion. John Williamson, who had previously contacted Frank about his idea of writing a bilby song, came to entertain the crowd. John’s song “Easter Bilby” was officially launched at the event. Bilbies were ceremoniously released into the enclosure, but were later caught because Peter considered the conditions too drought-stricken for the release captive bred animals.
The first bilby release 2005
Due to drought, the first captive bred bilbies were not able to be released onto Currawinya National Park until December 2005.
In May 2010, Frank, Peter and Dreamworld staff Al Mucci and Tina Niblock travelled to Currawinya National Park to release two important captive bred female bilbies behind the Bilby Fence. These two females, named Summa and Wyarra, are genetically important introductions to the current bilbies inside the predator proof fence area. The conditions for the release in this harsh arid landscape were absolutely perfect, lots of rain has provided much needed plant growth and invertebrate feed for the bilbies to forage on. This is the second release of bilbies from Dreamworld.
As part of Dreamworld’s release program, in collaboration with the Department of Environment and Resource Management (DERM) and Save the Bilby Fund (STBF) a monitoring program exists which the staff assisted on. Six bilbies were spotlighted over the course of the release and these two females will make a welcome addition to the existing males looking for mates.
As well as supporting Peter with his research, Save the Bilby Fund has partially funded several research projects by universities into bilby reproduction, genetics and dental health, as well as research into the biodiversity and ecosystems in the fenced enclosure at Currawinya National Park. Click here for more information.
Captive breeding programs
Save the Bilby Fund’s main captive breeding program is based in Charleville. Dreamworld has become part of this program and also breeds bilbies for release.
Save the Bilby Fund has paid for aerial surveys of Currawinya National Park to assist in the management of the bilby population.
Bridled Nailtail Wallaby Project 2011 – 2012
One of the aims of Save the Bilby Fund is to establish the bilby as an ambassador for other endangered species. In 2011, $5,050 was provided to support a vital project which used non-invasive hair sampling to estimate the population size of bridled nailtail wallabies (Onchogalea fraenata) at Avocet Nature Refuge. The project was managed by Leanne Henry and this is a link to her thesis which was one of the outcomes of this project.
Northern hairy-nosed wombat
Save the Bilby Fund aims to make the bilby an ambassador for other Australian endangered speices. We have donated $10,000 to the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat Survival Committee for research into this critically endangered species.
The dawn of a new chocolate bilby era
After a decade of very successful sponsorship, the agreement with Darrell Lea that was signed in 2002 ended in 2012. Darrell Lea contributed over $350,000 to Save the Bilby Fund from the sale of chocolate bilbies. In March 2013 Fyna Foods, Pink Lady Chocolates became a new sponsor of the fund, presenting an initial cheque for $10 000.
Chocolate bilby sponsorship began when Frank realised that to increase the scale of fundraising, he needed to identify a product to sell in order to increase funds as well as awareness about the bilby. He saw the benefits in the concept of the chocolate bilby and did a radio interview inviting chocolate companies to support the bilby cause.
Frank has worked tirelessly to promote the bilby cause through all forms of media. His passion has helped make Save the Bilby Fund one of the most renowned not for profit organisations in Australia. Exposure for the Fund has included the ABC’s Australian Story in 2002; Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes in 2006 and Channel Nine’s Inside Queensland in 2008.
Bilby visits to schools and community events
Frank and his bilbies are seen by tens of thousands of students every year in his efforts to help educate the next generation about the plight of endangered species. He also visits many community events and shows. His exhibit in partnership with Featherdale Wildlife Park won the prestigious John Ross Award at the 2010 Sydney Royal Easter Show.
Threatened Species Day
Several years ago, Frank was reading about Threatened Species Day and thought that it would be a wonderful opportunity to use this day as a reason to take endangered species to the people. His vision was for wildlife parks and zoos all around Australia to take endangered wildlife to places where many people could see and learn about them. Frank used his networking skills to establish the inaugural Threatened Species Day event in the Queen St Mall in Queensland in 2008. Every wildlife park in SE Queensland brought endangered species such as Bilbies, Loggerhead Turtles, Julia Creek Dunnarts and Sumatran Tiger cubs for the public to see. The event was a huge success and was widely reported in the media. In 2009, Cairns and Townsville also joined in the event.
In 2010, with the help of the Zoo and Aquarium Association and Dreamworld, Frank has succeeded in enlisting the support of wildlife parks all around Australia to join in the Threatened Species Day activities. Frank’s vision will mean that people in Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Ipswich and Townsville will see and learn more about the plight of endangered species. As the years progress, it is planned that many more of these events will take place on Threatened Species Day.
Photos courtesy Joann Johnstone