Flying foxes facing a disaster of biblical proportions

There are 62 little souls in this photo - all from one tree. c. Ann DarcyWe all remember the epic scene in a black and white movie where a hundred bats fly out of a creepy cave, swirling and screeching, as they attack a poor damsel in distress.

Frightening as this seems, it is entirely incorrect in reference to all the bats we have here in Australia. 

Some are known as flying foxes and unlike their European and US counterparts (the ones in the scary movies) our flying foxes do not live in caves, do not feed on blood and are claimed by some to be biologically similar to primates, although recent DNA studies reveal an evolutionary link to the horse! 

Unfortunately though, popular culture has maligned the reputation of the flying fox, rendering them nothing more than disease-ridden, carnivorous creatures. It is time to rectify this stereotype before the flying fox is lost to our land forever.

Human interference and frequent heatwaves are putting undue strain of the flying fox.  Dispersal activity in NSW preventing flying foxes from returning to their camps in many areas along the Eastern seaboard of Australia is likely to have interrupted birthing patterns and forced the animals to seek refuge in unsafe areas or those already fully occupied by other flying foxes.

Video from the Bomaderry Creek Flying-Fox colony heat stress incident.

In fact, flying foxes tagged in the Sydney metro region have been found as far north as Bundaberg and as far south as Eden, near the NSW/VIC border, many electrocuted as a result of resting on power lines.

In addition to this, amendments to Queensland laws once again sanction the shooting of flying foxes, issuing permits to fruit growers and farmers.

Originally banned under Queensland law due to the high rate of wounding, rather than killing, Steve Amesbury, of dontshootbats.com condemns this action, saying “under the new regulation, up to 10,500 flying foxes can be shot each year.

More are likely to be shot illegally and thousands of dependent young will also die”. Steve says fruit growers can more effectively protect their crops with nets, abolishing the need for culling.

The recent and continuing heatwaves across NSW, Victoria and Tasmania are decimating flying fox populations. With temperatures repeatedly reaching over 39°, flying foxes are literally falling down are doing so in their camps, where they spend the day resting before flying out at night.  Some of the animals in these camps maybe those dispersed from other areas – we simply don’t know.

The known camps are being monitored and the International Fund for Animal Welfare is assisting carer groups in preparation to send in volunteers. 

One wildlife group reported the death of 2000 flying foxes in one night. Dealing with this type of devastation takes an enormous toll, physically and emotionally on carers.  Many report feelings of guilt and grief on the extent of the suffering and death, which out weights the numbers saved.

Although not often recognised, flying foxes play an important role in our ecosystems as long range pollinators, dispersing the seeds of many native plants. IFAW recognises the efforts of Steve, Gerardine Hawkins at the Bat Clinic and the many other campaigners across Australia, issuing grants to assist in the care and rehabilitation of flying foxes.

We would like to thank them for their continued efforts to secure the survival of the flying fox in Australia

--JS

*It is important to note that IFAW does not recommend you attempt to assist an injured flying fox yourself. It is more advisable to call your local wildlife organisation who can send a trained and vaccinated volunteer to deal with any flying fox in danger.

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