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Bat debate flares after tragic death - interview - ABC radio


In amongst the hysteria there are some positive stories coming through. Here is an interview I did (Louise, bats.org.au) today. The government still guarded with their future plans for flying-fox management.

An interview today on the World Today ABC radio:
ELEANOR HALL: In Queensland, the death of an eight-year-old boy from the bat-borne disease, lyssavirus, has sparked another debate over how to control the native animals.

Conservationists are warning authorities against over-reacting to the tragedy, but the State Government is not ruling out a cull of flying foxes.

Doctors though say fatal bat-borne diseases are rare, and that what's really needed is better education.

Lexi Metherell has our report.

LEXI METHERELL: In December, a family from north Queensland took a holiday to the Whitsundays. There, the son was bitten or scratched by a bat.

He didn't tell his parents though and three weeks ago he began having fits, suffering a fever and brain inflammation.

On Friday, the eight-year-old died, becoming the third person to succumb to Australian Bat Lyssavirus since the first recorded death in 1996.

ALEX MARKWELL: It's a terribly tragic story and it's just horrible for the family of this little boy who's passed away.

LEXI METHERELL: All Australian bats have the potential to carry lyssavirus, which is similar to rabies.

The president of the Australian Medical Association Queensland, Doctor Alex Markwell, says it's transmitted through infected bat saliva.

ALEX MARKWELL: Australian Bat Lyssavirus is incredibly rare. Unfortunately though, once the virus has been contracted, it appears to be always fatal.

LEXI METHERELL: Bats are considered a major irritation in some parts of Queensland because of their noise and droppings. The State Government promised to address the issue, ahead of the election. It's since allowed farmers to apply for permits to shoot flying foxes to protect crops and is giving councils more power to move bats on.

Conservationists fear that after the boy's death and the deaths from the bat borne Hendra virus, a cull is now on the cards.

The president of Bat Rescue and Conservation Queensland, Louise Saunders, says bats need to be protected.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: Two of our four species of flying foxes in Queensland are listed as vulnerable and we, as a rescue organisation, we can see that animal populations are in massive decline. We have starvation events right up and down the east coast, where flying foxes are just desperately seeking food and they're dying and we're losing entire generations of flying foxes.

So they are in dire straits.

LEXI METHERELL: And they do play an important role ecologically?

LOUISE SAUNDERS: They are vital, they are keystone species for the role that they play. Nectar studies recently proved that the nectar flow in our main hardwood forests and melaleuca wetlands, that the nectar flow was after midnight and then pollen receptors shut down at dawn.

So they're looking for long distance pollinators, which flying foxes are.

LEXI METHERELL: The State's Environment Minister is Andrew Powell.

ANDREW POWELL: We do believe that more stringent control measures are needed, that's why we took the election commitments we did around working with councils and reintroducing legal damage mitigation permits for farmers and fruit growers.

LEXI METHERELL: Will there be any kind of cull?

ANDREW POWELL: As I said, now is not the time for politics or hysterics, my focus is on implementing those election commitments.

LEXI METHERELL: So you're not ruling it out though.

ANDREW POWELL: As I said, my focus is on delivering what we promised prior to the last election.

LEXI METHERELL: The Australian Medical Association's Doctor Alex Markwell questions whether a cull could be justified.

ALEX MARKWELL: For people living with bats in their neighbourhood, obviously they're quite noisy and can be quite smelly and annoying, but the actual health risks are very low unless you're attempting to handle the bats.

So certainly, education is very important and then only consideration of other control measures when the numbers become overwhelming or if there is a very clear public health danger there.

There may be circumstances where that is appropriate, I'm not an animal expert, but just on face value it would seem that education is the most important first step.

LEXI METHERELL: Conservationist Louise Saunders agrees education is key.

LOUISE SAUNDERS: They are overreacting and the comments from some of the top ministers is very, very frightening. We have to stop this madness. It's about education, we have to educate the community.

You don't have to go out and kill things.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Louise Saunders from Bat Rescue and Conservation Queensland, ending Lexi Metherell's report.

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Megabats and Microbats: Bat debate flares after tragic death - interview - ABC radio
Bat debate flares after tragic death - interview - ABC radio
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Megabats and Microbats
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