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bellingen.com - we need flyingfoxes - local attitudes Fruit bats Megabats Flying fox


First, we need them to show that what is wrong way up for some is right way up for others. Then, we need them because without them our forests would sicken and die.

Many Australian hardwood trees are sensitive to inbreeding. For healthy propagation they need to be fertilised by creatures that travel great distances during their feeding, as flying foxes do. And the trees release their nectar at night, neatly organised, when flying foxes feed. Birds and insects do not have long-range ability in spreading pollen, and smaller creatures are less able to spread seed over long distances than are large flying mammals.
Flying foxes services become more and more valuable as we clear more and more forest, leaving only far- scattered pockets. Flying foxes are necessary to connect up these remnants.

In fact we must have flying foxes in large numbers. To make them do their forest work there must be so many that competition forces them to travel widely, pollinating and spreading seed as they feed.

When dealing with difficulties that arise from the presence of flying foxes it must be kept in mind that flying foxes are essential animals in this part of Australia, doing essential forest work that we would not be able to do ourselves even with expenditure of millions of dollars. Without flying foxes we would not have forests as we know them, and would lose commercial hardwood varieties of trees in particular. But we would lose more than the forests. We would also lose the animals that depend on these forests, such as koalas and countless other species.



Old timers report that flying foxes used this area as a roost from early last century. Aboriginal tradition refers to the presence of flying foxes here before that too.

In earlier times the animals had a choice of several campsites. They could use areas in turn, allowing each area times for regrowth of worn trees. The alternative sites have now been cleared for farming so now Bellingen Island is used constantly. In times past bats were here only intermittently, leaving The Island empty of bats for stretches of, say, ten years. Also, areas of The Island have been cleared, reducing the area where flying foxes can roost. Thus they may be packed more tightly than they might choose and cause heavier wear on the trees.

Due to these two changes made by humans the vegetation of The Island gets regrettably hard wear now but these trees are adapted to such wear and are not killed by it. Locals worry about damage to the vegetation but it is weeds and storms combined that do the worst damage to existing trees, choking and breaking them, and uprooting them completely.

Before the mid eighties it was official policy to treat flying foxes as a pest species and to try to remove them. Shooting was encouraged and even subsidised. The local council spent money on noise-making equipment in an attempt to scare the bats away. These efforts were ineffective and also were strongly opposed by many people in the community.

In 1985 policy in Bellingen changed. Disturbance stopped. Many people recognized the essential part that the flying foxes play in the forest – for Australian hardwood species they are more important for survival than the birds and the bees. In 2001 both the state and the federal governments listed Greyheaded Flying foxes as vulnerable. It is recognized that these, our major species in Bellingen, are valuable animals threatened by extinction.

The general public in Bellingen is far better informed and far wiser about flying foxes than is usual in the general rural population. Many neighbours of The Island enjoy being able to watch the bats regularly and have chosen to live next to them.


I work as a freelance wildlife photographer specializing in flying foxes. I started to get “serious” about photography more than forty years ago, and began photographing flying foxes in 1986. Some of this work has been used by The Australian Museum, Government wildlife services in various states, magazines in countries such as Japan, Germany and USA as well as Australia, in newspapers, by individual scientists and in art exhibitions.

One of the most enjoyable branches of my work is using photography as part of systematic study of flying fox behaviour. With photography individual animals can be positively identified and so their behaviour can be monitored. Detailed information has been gained from this, some of it surprising in light of earlier beliefs.

Living close to the Bellingen Island Flying fox camp, I can usually hear flying fox voices and can watch them streaming home in the morning without getting out of bed. It is convenient for me to visit the island at any time to enjoy the variety of flying fox activities as they change with the seasons and with times of day. The Island is also a rich environment of plants and other animals. Birds are spectacular there on spring mornings.

I use Canon digital cameras and an array of lenses. My favourite is 100-400mm with image stabiliser. I prefer to work without a tripod. Frequently I use fill flash to show flying fox faces that are so often in shadow, though I prefer to keep to natural light.



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Megabats and Microbats: bellingen.com - we need flyingfoxes - local attitudes Fruit bats Megabats Flying fox
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