The little body could fit easily within the palm of my hand, the puppy-dog eyes would stare up at me with a mixture of fear and wanting and it never ceased to amaze me just how much this little guy could drink. The shame is I can’t remember what I called the little flying fox that I adopted when I was a post graduate student at the University of New South Wales. I fancy I didn’t actually give it a name so that I wouldn’t get too attached to it prior to his eventual release back into the wild.
Every year hundreds or even thousands of baby flying foxes are orphaned when their mothers are electrocuted on electrical wires. The small babies are left clinging to the lifeless corpses and a few are lucky enough to be found by people or volunteers from WIRES (The NSW Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service Inc) before a cat or a dog dispatches them. And there is an army of volunteers out there who adopt these little fellas and take on the role of surrogate mother flying fox to nurse them to a stage where they are big enough to release back into the wild. That means a bottle-feeding regime every three or four hours around the clock. And you could never sleep through a feed; the shrill little shrieks are enough to wake anybody!
So I’ve had a long affection for flying foxes, an admiration that goes way beyond my fondness for most other native animals. And when they came in for a string of accusations about moving into our parks and spreading disease, I thought it was time to act. There is another side of the flying fox story and that is what I wanted to tell. In essence the commonly recognised ‘problems’ of flying foxes are actually symptoms of the real issue: we’re destroying their feeding and camping grounds so they are moving into our towns and cities.
Just hanging around – Grey-Headed Flying Foxes asleep in the trees. (OK, those heads look pretty red to me to but I didn’t name the bloody things!). Photo credit: David Wilks, Biodiversity Officer, Ku-ring-gai council.
People and flying foxes can live with each other as we saw when we went to film the Gordon flying fox colony on the leafy North Shore of Sydney. There a dedicated band of volunteers including Nancy Pallin have provided decades of tireless work educating the locals and working with the local council to make sure the leathery-winged neighbours are safe and well.
Beginning to stir. In case you’re wondering (and most people do), yes, they do urinate on themselves, particularly on hot days as a way of cooling down. However, they are adept at propelling their defecations away from themselves (and not infrequently onto people walking below). Photo credit: David Wilks, Biodiversity Officer, Ku-ring-gai council.
But in the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardens it’s a different story. The bats are killing the trees and the park custodians want to move their unwanted tenants on to some other, less sensitive camp. And, as you will see in our story tonight, that is not as easy as it sounds.
Time for a stretch and a scratch. Aren’t they marvellous and beautiful creatures? Photo credit: David Wilks, Biodiversity Officer, Ku-ring-gai council.
As I looked up into the thousands of Flying Foxes slumbering and squabbling in the trees above me, I thought back to my little adoptee some 20-odd years ago. I knew that he could not be up there amongst his mates. After two months of caring and nurturing, the poor little thing died, probably from kidney failure. It’s a common fate for babies whose mothers were electrocuted. The electric shock damages their kidneys and slowly their whole plumbing system shuts down. He went quietly one evening, his eyes looking back up into mine for one last moment before he slipped away.
That’s me taking a moment to admire Flying foxes with Nancy Pallin on the balcony of a house that backs on to the Gordon camp. Photo credit: David Wilks, Biodiversity Officer, Ku-ring-gai council.