Aardvarks and bilbies: bridging two continents
I've always loved bilbies so I wasn't surprised when as Australia's High Commissioner to Ghana from 2020 to 2021, I first saw and immediately became obsessed with aardvarks. These two burrowing mammals are remarkably similar despite living on different continents. Both have long ears, snouts and tongues that they use to feed on ants and termites. Both are nocturnal. Both are adorably cute. And both face serious threats to their survival.
In Africa, aardvarks are losing their habitat to deforestation, agriculture, and urbanisation. They are also hunted for their meat and hides, which are used in traditional medicines. In Australia, bilbies endure habitat loss due to agricultural development and pastoralism, and predation and competition from feral animals like cats, foxes, rabbits and camels. Additionally, climate change poses a threat to both species. Changing weather patterns, drought and wildfires impact their habitat, food availability and conditions of their burrows.
I can't help but see bilbies and aardvarks as a metaphor for Australia's relations with Africa. Despite being on opposite sides of the world, both continents share similarities in our cultures, histories, and ecosystems. Both continents have unique wildlife that face extinction threats. Both have rich and diverse Indigenous cultures. Both have experienced the impacts of colonialism and exploitation. And indeed, both were once joined together millions of years ago as part of Gondwanaland. That's why we share trees like acacias and baobabs.
To save aardvarks and bilbies, as well as other threatened species globally, we need to work together to protect their habitats and reduce the threats they face. This requires global effort to address threats like climate change, habitat loss, and the trade in wildlife products. It also requires recognition of the interconnectedness of our world and a commitment to conservation that transcends national borders.