Animal hospitals have experienced a huge spike in fruit bat admissions in the past decade, and despite valiant efforts by veterinarians more than half never go home.
New research shows they are most likely to become entangled in fruit nets or suffer other trauma.
At Melbourne’s two main animal hospitals the number of injured grey-headed flying foxes, a type of fruit bat, rose from just one in 2000 to 118 in 2014, a record year.
Of the 532 bats admitted for treatment at Healesville Sanctuary and Melbourne Zoo, most of the injuries were caused by humans, and well over a third were hurt in fruit nets.
Dr Franciscus Scheelings, from Healesville’s Australian Wildlife Health Centre, carried out the research after noticing soaring numbers of injured fruit bats.
He said that could be explained by more bats living in urban areas and a greater awareness, prompting more people to bring in hurt ones.
“They are listed as threatened because in Victoria we have cleared more than 60 per cent of their native habitat and that’s had a huge effect on the population,” Dr Franciscus said.
The bats play a vital role in the ecosystem by dispersing seeds and pollinating plants.
“Not only are they important environmentally, they are also very charismatic and highly intelligent animals.”
It was important for all Victorians to take steps to protect them, he said.
For instance people could make their fruit tree netting less lethal by opting for white instead of black nets, and pulling it taut on a frame so bats bounce off.