Australia is a world leader in species extinction and declines, largely due to invasive species.
Pleas to save the bilby sadly came too late for one species – the lesser bilby or yallara. It was last sighted by a scientist in the 1930s, while Aboriginal people recalled them surviving until the 1960s.
In 1931, a Wangkangurru man showed amateur scientist Hedley Finlayson these animals at Koonchera Dune on the edge of Sturt Stony Desert in South Australia. His guide was adept at excavating their winding burrows dug into steep dunes. Finlayson vividly described the captured yallara:
“…fierce and intractable, and repulsed the most tactful attempts to handle them by repeated savage snapping bites and harsh hissing sounds.”
– Hedley Finlayson, 1931
In the early 1980s, biologists visited almost 50 desert communities across a vast swath of outback on an urgent mission to record information about extinct species. With interpreters and museum skins they asked elders about their desert mammals past and present. Lesser bilbies were remembered in many communities by elders who had not seen them for as long as 60 years. The freshest memories came from Pintupi people who had seen them 20 years previously in hills near today’s settlement of Patjarr in the Gibson Desert of Western Australia. The Pintupi of this region were some of the last Aboriginal people to encounter white Australians, and their recollections imply that this species, which they knew as nantakarra, nyunpi or tjunpi, went extinct in the 1960s.
Foxes and cats are blamed for the extinction of this small bilby species.
Australia has lost about 100 native plants and animals to extinction since colonisation, most of which were mainly due to invasive species. An estimated 27 of those extinctions occurred since the 1960s.
Learn more about some of Australia’s lost animals: