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Who else forgot about the bandicoot?
Australia is a land of cute animals on the verge of extinction. Before us stretches a line of unique species, all demanding your conservation attention. The Tasmanian devil. The southern hairy-nosed wombat. The Tiger quoll. The brush-tailed rock wallaby. The bilby.
That last one there, the bilby, has much to answer for. Because the bilby - now all but entrenched as an Easter alternative to the hated rabbit - is a member of the order Peramelemorphia, along with a bunch of little critters you may dimly remember from old kid’s books like the MuddleHeaded Wombat.
Those critters are the bandicoots, Australia’s answer to the junkyard rat. Indeed, in older books anyway, common long-nosed bandicoots are often cast as mischievous hoarders, thieves, or in the case of Blinky Bill, as henchmen.
But we don’t hear much about them these days, especially the rather attractive and endangered Eastern barred bandicoot.
More like a small rabbit than a rat, this little creature roamed the Victorian plains until foxes arrived. Now, these bandicoots are restricted to Tasmania and a handful of conservation sites on the mainland.
While the long-nosed bandicoot is omnivorous - and thus can thrive in rubbish tips - the Eastern barred bandicoot is a carnivore like the bilby. It uses that distinctive nose to probe into the soil for tasty crickets, worms and the occasional beetle.
Apart from foxes, this bandicoot must also compete with rabbits. It has a super-short gestation period of just 12 days, which is great, and takes about as long as a rabbit to reach sexual maturity, but it usually only produces two or three young, versus six to 10 for rabbits.
Average everything out, and rabbits produce three female offspring per month. Plus rabbits eat grass, while the bandicoot has to hunt for prey.
So despite that super-short gestation period, this is why the poor Eastern barred bandicoot lost its grip on the mainland.
And like so many other endangered marsupials, there are sophisticated breeding programs underway, and new populations being established in Victoria. So why have so many people forgotten about the bandicoot?
A generation ago, the bandicoot was on the “kindergarten poster” list of iconic Aussie animals, right there with the koala, wombat, possum, kangaroo, and even the numbat. Somehow, though, it dropped off.
We blame the bilby. After all, what chance does the bandicoot have, while its biggest rival is bribing its way into our hearts with chocolate?