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'Easter Bibly' May Replace Easter Bunny In Australia To Stave Off Extinction

SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Easter Bunny's days as a furry seasonal icon may be numbered in Australia, as conservationists Down Under move to replace it with the Easter Bilby.

The bilby is a rare marsupial that has long ears, a long muzzle, silky fur and a pouch like a kangaroo. Males grow to about the same size as a rabbit.

But the animal is in trouble. Only some 600 are estimated to remain in the wild, and its habitat is being steadily eaten away by rabbits, which were introduced to Australia.

As a result, Mike Drinkwater, who looks after bilbies at a Sydney wildlife park, would like to make the Easter Bunny a thing of the past.

"Number one, rabbits are a pest in Australia. Secondly, the bilby has these lovely, endearing rabbit-like qualities," he said.

"Thirdly, the bilby is a beautiful, iconic native animal that is struggling. It is endangered, so it's important that we do all we can to support that."

Chocolate stores around Australia are displaying Easter Bilbies in their windows. The largest Australian-owned chocolate factory, Darrell Lea - which sponsors bilby breeding programs - questioned why anybody would want to buy an Easter Bunny when they could have an Easter Bilby instead.

The campaign appears to be catching on. Some schools have replaced their Easter bunnies with bilbies for annual egg hunts.

"Given that the bilbies have suffered so greatly due to the introduction of rabbits, it's directly linked to a very important conservation and education message," Drinkwater said.

(Reporting by Reuters Television; editing by Elaine Lies)

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