If You're a True Blue Aussie, Replace Your Chocolate Easter Bunny with a Chocolate Easter Bilby

This Easter, when Australian Mums and Dads go shopping for Easter eggs, it is hoped that they will bypass the aisles full of Easter bunnies and look instead for the rows of Easter bilbies. Children have been indoctrinated to see the rabbit as a soft, fluffy creature. However the rabbit is also Australia's greatest feral pest. Rabbits cause enormous environmental damage wherever they occur. It is hoped to replace the myth of the harmless rabbit with one of Australia's iconic native marsupials, the rabbit-eared bandicoot or 'bilby'.

Easter BilbyCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Easter_Bilby.jpg

The rabbit and hare are both associated with fertility and have long been linked with spring and spring festivals. It seems the first connection of the rabbit with Easter occurred in Germany where it is recorded in writings of the 16th century. The first edible Easter bunnies were made of sugared pastry in the 19th century, again in Germany.

The rabbit has created havoc with native wildlife throughout Australia ever since it was let free on our shores.

In 1991 the Anti Rabbit Research Fund of Australia (now renamed as the Foundation for Rabbit-Free Australia) began promoting the Easter bilby to highlight the plight of native animals and to educate people on the part the rabbit had played in destroying the habitat of native marsupials. Many of Australia's native animals are in grave danger of extinction. Australia has the highest rate of extinction of its native animals in the world. Habitat loss and competition from introduced animals such as the rabbit and fox have played havoc with the land and its fauna.

To support the promotion of the Easter bilby, author Jeni Bright wrote a children's book called Burra Nimu the Easter Bilby. The 'Easter Bilby' was registered as a business name on 3 December 1991. The first chocolate bilbies were manufactured by Haigh's Chocolates, Melba's Chocolates and Cottage Box Chocolates (all in South Australia) in 1993.

In 2002, Darrell Lea Chocolates began their support of the Save the Bilby Fund by donating a percentage of every chocolate bilby sold. The grocery giant Coles donated around $300,000 in eight years but ceased their support in 2002.

The bilby belongs to the bandicoot family. Bandicoots are ground-dwelling creatures. The bilby has ears somewhat like a rabbit and has the common name of 'rabbit-eared bandicoot'.

In the desert areas of Central Australia, the bilby is an important part of indigenous culture. The bilby differs from other bandicoots. Its ears are larger, the tail longer and it has long silky fur. The snout is long and pointed and the ears rabbit-like. The body is compact and between 29 and 55cm in length.

They are great burrowers, making up to a dozen burrows within their home range. They use the burrows for shelter during the day. They have strong forelimbs and touch claws which they use to dig with. Their diet consists of fungi, fruit, insects, seeds and bulbs. The tongue is long and slender. Bilbies were once found throughout Australia, in many different habitats and most climatic regions. Today its classification is 'vulnerable'. There are isolated populations in the Tanami Desert in the Northern Territory and the Mitchell Grasslands of southwest Queensland. They are also found in the Gibson and Great Sandy Deserts, and the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia.

Book - Bilbies First EasterCredit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BilbiesFirstEaster.jpg

Between 1994 and 2000, Australian author and illustrator Irena Sibley published three Easter Bilby books including The Bilbies' First Easter, Silver Gum Press 1994.

Hopefully sales of Easter bilbies will help fund research into ways of eradicating introduced pests, especially the pesky rabbit.