Surely the Eastern Barred Bandicoot is cuter than an Easter bunny | Photo © Zoos Victoria
Have you ever wondered what a bunny has to do with Easter? It’s said to be a similar reason as the symbolisation of eggs – new life and fertility. The Easter Bunny was first documented in the 1500s. By 1680, the first story about a rabbit laying eggs and hiding them in a garden was published (yes, we know a chocolate egg-laying rabbit is odd).
In Australia we have a bit of a complicated relationship with rabbits. They’re an introduced species and have unfortunately had a negative impact on native animals and plants. So instead of an Easter bunny, what if we celebrated an iconic Australian marsupial?
We’d like to suggest the Eastern Barred Bandicoot. It’s similarly cute and fluffy, and they even bounce! But perhaps more importantly it has a great back story. One about a little bit of luck, and lot of dedication and determination.
The stripey rear end of an Eastern Barred Bandicoot | Photo © Mark Norman, Parks Victoria
Native to south-eastern Australia, the Eastern Barred Bandicoot is a small, nocturnal marsupial with a long pointy nose and a striped rump. But this adorable species has teetered on the brink of extinction. Unfortunately the reason is all too common – habitat loss and predators.
The grassy woodlands of Victoria were once the Eastern Barred Bandicoot’s preferred home, but these environments were destroyed by housing development and agriculture, leaving the species exposed to the new threats of foxes and feral cats, and unprotected from fire and drought. The outlook was bleak.
That was until a small population was found living among old car wrecks in the 1980s at the Hamilton tip in western Victoria. A place of human rubbish and waste is not the most auspicious of safe havens, but this most unlikely of places had at least preserved this small population. But this small population could not survive for long on its own.
So just what does it take to save a species? In the case of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot the answer is some pretty remarkable humans. The Eastern Barred Bandicoot Recovery Program was created, and in 1991 a captive breeding program was established by Zoos Victoria. The Recovery Program brings together the various organisations involved in research, funding, breeding and release of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot as part of a coordinated conservation program.
Release the bandicoot! | Photo © Amy Coetsee, Zoos Victoria
A new children’s book entitled Bouncing Back: An Eastern Barred Bandicoot Story from CSIRO Publishing, describes the outstanding efforts by dedicated conservation staff and volunteers to ensure a future for this vulnerable species. It is a story of hope, highlighting that together we can make a huge leap forward in the survival of the Eastern Barred Bandicoot.
In great news, Bouncing Back has been shortlisted for 2019’s The Children’s Book Council of Australia Award. As the book’s author Rohan Cleave says, “Ultimately, I am a children’s book fan too and having the CBCA recognise your work is a really flattering.” Bravo, Rohan and illustrator Coral Tullock!
Doesn’t the bandicoot sound like the ideal Easter hero? If you still need convincing, we’ve got some facts to help you make up your mind.
Getting to know the Eastern Barred Bandicoot a little better
- The Eastern Barred Bandicoot may be small in size but they are extremely fast and can jump up to two metres in the air.
- They have one of the shortest gestation periods of any mammal. Females are pregnant for just 12.5 days and a newborn will live in its mother’s pouch for 55 days.
- Maremma dogs (made famous in the Australian family movie Oddball – about sheepdogs trained to protect penguins) are now being used in the Guardian Dog trial program as future ‘Bandicoot Bodyguards’.
- The Eastern Barred Bandicoot are classified as extinct in the wild on mainland Australia, but the efforts of many dedicated conservationist and volunteers are making a huge leaps forward in their survival.