THE much-maligned bats of Cairns city could actually hold the key to a major tourism boost for the region.
A bat expert claims bat tourism should be embraced and promoted but two of the region’s leaders disagree, saying promoting flying foxes would not be “conducive” to the Far North’s tourism profile.
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Australasian Bat Society’s bat night co-ordinator Maree Kerr said the dozens of visitors who congregate on streets to watch the flying foxes would be best served by a tour operator.
The Darwin-based wildlife educator, who is in the process of helping compile a map of Australia’s top places to watch bats, said the Cairns library colony was among the nation’s top flying fox viewing spots.
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“When you see people standing there, just staring, they’re just open-mouthed,’’ she said.
“If that’s facilitated by somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about and takes them to a really good spot to see them, and can tell them what they’re seeing, it’s a highlight of that person’s wildlife experience.”
She said other places across the world benefited greatly from bat tourism, such as in Austin, Texas.
Bat enthusiasts travel to the city from all over the world to view the city’s nightly flight of thousands of Mexican free-tailed bats.
The tourism experience is promoted by the city, and serviced by private tour operators.
“Now, 180,000 people a year come to see it,’’ Ms Kerr said.
Tourism Tropical North Queensland CEO Alex de Waal did not believe Cairns was missing out on any opportunities for bat tourism in the region.
“There are, perhaps, some regions in the world that are reduced to the need of focusing on bat tourism,’’ he said.
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“I don’t think this region is at that stage.
“We certainly have a number of other attributes in the natural environment.
“Here within the rainforests of Queensland, there are plenty of areas where you can experience bats and learn about the bat colonies, but if you’re referring to the bat colony that resides in the CBD here within Cairns, they are certainly not conducive to a positive tourism profile for the region.”
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Cairns Regional Council has received permission from the state and federal governments to disperse the city’s library colony, which it is waiting to do at the end of the breeding season.
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning supported Mr de Waal’s comments, and said the council had made the correct decision to try to shift the colony.
“I know there will be a cry out from small interest groups, but this is a … decision which we believe will be overwhelmingly supported by the rest of the community,’’ he said.
He expected the dispersal action to take place “fairly soon.”