greater bilby (

Canberra, April 11 (IANS) The population of the threatened greater bilby — an iconic Australian marsupial species — in protected areas across the nation has more than doubled in 12 months, a national census has found.

The annual census, which was undertaken by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC), counted 3,315 greater bilbies in six protected areas, up from 1,480 in the previous year, reports Xinhua news agency.

Aly Ross, an ecologist from AWC, attributed the rise to increased conservation efforts for the iconic marsupial and favourable weather conditions.

“The drought in 2018 and 2019 really knocked a lot of our populations around,” she told the local media on Tuesday.

“But now we’ve had a bit of rain and there’s things growing and stuff to eat, so those bilbies are doing a lot better which is great to see.”

Last week, the federal government launched a new national strategy to protect the greater bilby from extinction.

Once with a natural habitat range covering two thirds of Australia, the bilby, a rabbit-like mammal that can grow up to 55 cm long, is now found in only 15 per cent of the country as a result of predation, land clearing and bushfires.

Bilbies are major ecosystem engineers, with their digging for food helping water penetrate soil, meaning their loss has wide-ranging implications.

“So, when we lose species like the bilby that actually changes the habitat,” Ross said.

“It changes the kind of environmental structure, so it makes it harder for other species to live in there as well.”