Australia’s Adorable Bilby Is Being Turned Into A Biological Weapon

Australia’s Adorable Bilby Is Being Turned Into A Biological Weapon

In the last 200 years, Australia has lost 31 known species, the most of any country in the world, MSN reports. One of the latest to face the threat of extinction is the adorable bilby.

The Bilby is a small defenseless animal, easy prey for invasive predators and classified as Vulnerable by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

According to IFLScience, Climate change has made certain habitats unsuitable for the small marsupials. Land clearing for farming (or as part of logging operations) is also responsible for wiping out bilbies, but its non-native cats and foxes that could drive the species to extinction, BBC reports.

The latest strategy to help save the bilby from extinction involves turning them into biological weapons.

One study advocates for inserting poison pellets under the animal’s skin. The poison, a highly toxic payload of compound 1080, is intended to dissuade predators from attacking the bilby by killing anything that does.

“We might lose a bilby or two,” University of South Australia PhD student Kyle Brewer told IFLScience, “But the rest will be protected.”

The traditional method of saving an endangered species would be to enclose the bilby’s area with a fence that would keep out introduced predators. And baits and poison traps have limited effectiveness because cats prefer live prey.

The latest strategy to help save the bilby from extinction involves injecting them with poison.

Studies show that some bilbies in western Australia, by ingesting certain plants in southwestern Australia that produce a molecule similar to 1080 poison, have built up an immunity to the deadly properties of these plants. This means they are relatively unaffected by compound 1080, while it is still lethal to most other animals.

Researchers take this as evidence that the specially-coated 1080 poison will not harm the animals when injected with the pelletized poison.

“Even if we implanted the bilbies with three or four and they ruptured, they’d still be fine,” Dr Katherine Moesby of the University of New South Wales told The New Daily.

Brewer and Moesby believe the bilbies would survive exposure to the poison pellets beneath their skin, but they also have little evidence that their plan will work without long-term negative consequences.

Bilbies could go extinct if they are not protected from invasive predators.

A recent deluge in Australia has caused an explosion in the mouse population, IFLScience reports. Feral cats distracted by the rodents have left the bilbies alone.

Once the mice population subsides, the cats will turn their carnivorous instincts to the bilbies once more. If the researchers find their poison experiment is not a disaster for the bilbies, they intent to expand the plan to other species.

According to the BBC, cats and foxes were brought to the continent by European colonizers and abetted by introduced prey throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. European rabbits were imported to Australia in 1859, which multiplied to hundreds of millions in just a few decades. This abundance of rabbits pushed out some of the native animal populations and fed the non-native cats and foxes which drastically grew in number.

Predator fences have proven effective in Australia when constructed properly. The best fences block invaders from burrowing in and Bilbies burrowing out, stop foxes and cats from climbing over, and may be electrified to prevent emus and kangaroos from crashing into and damaging the netting.

In the United States, compound 1080 has proven detrimental to native wildlife, pets and people. There are far more negative consequences in the employment of this poison than positive outcomes make up for.

According to The Coalition of Australians Against 1080 Poison, the consumption of just 3 milligrams of 1080 poison, a single fox bait, can be lethal for up to five other animals. Any use of this toxin puts Australia’s native birds and mammals in danger, too.

Moreover, the toxic effects of 1080 can continue to persist in carcasses and pose a secondary threat to native animals for up to 75 days after the first death. Crows, other birds and even rodents have been shown to move baits into suburban backyards, leading in some cases to scores of companion animal deaths. Even the vomit of poisoned animals can pose a threat to any animal that may consume it.

We cannot allow this misguided attempt to reduce the threat of introduced species by tampering with an animal’s innate biology when there are more humane alternatives available. Help us send a message to the Australian government asking them to end this dangerous experiment and take a safer approach to saving the bilbies!

This article by Matthew Russell was first published by The Animal Rescue Site.

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