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Mystery over bats falling from the skies could be due to food shortage after heavy rains


BATS are dropping out of the sky across Western Sydney which could be due to a food shortage created by recent heavy rain, a WIRES carer has said.

Storm Stanford said about half a dozen weak and hungry flying-foxes had been discovered between Penrith and Blacktown since late July.

Some had been attacked by dogs when they came to ground.

“That’s an unusually high number for this time of year,” Ms Stanford, a bat carer with WIRES for 15 years, told the Penrith Press.

WIRES bat expert Storm Stanford holds a six-day-old Grey Headed Flying Fox after it was rescued.

She put the phenomena down to a food shortage created by the recent heavy rains.

“Everyone should assume all bats and flying foxes are infectious even if they don’t look sick,” warned Dr Bradley Forssman, director of public health, Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District.

“Lyssavirus, a very close relative of the rabies virus, is carried by all four species of Australian fruit bats (flying foxes) and at least three species of insectivorous bat.

“Lyssavirus has previously been detected in bats in Penrith and elsewhere in NSW.”


Dr Bradley Forssman pictured near a bat colony in Emu Plains in 2015, where a bat infected with the deadly Lyssavirus virus was found. Picture: Matthew Sullivan

A health district spokesman said three people had been bitten or scratched by Australian bats in this region in 2016, but no hospital admissions for bat bites or scratches in hospitals within the district had been recorded.

Among the distressed bats found locally wasa “cold, thin juvenile female” in Claremont Meadows on August 6.

“She was on the ground for no particular reason,” Ms Stanford said.


WIRES carer Rhonda Hansen feeds the flying-fox found hungry and weak in Claremont Meadows.


Rhonda Hansen shows the injured wing of the female bat that she rescued when it came to ground.

“I’m not sure why it’s happening, but it could be because we have had quite a bit of rain causing the nectar (which they feed on) to be knocked out of the blossoms.

“Because they eat a very high-calorie diet, of nectar mainly, a couple of days of no food will take a very heavy toll on them, particularly if they’re pregnant.

“Because they fly, and that’s heavy mammal bones, they tend not to carry fat if they can possibly avoid it.

“A starving bat may start roosting away from camp and turning up in odd places, like courtyards or local streets, and they may be more prone to injury and accidents.”

Rhonda Hansen, who rescued the bat in Claremont Meadows, said the bat had climbed up a wire cyclone fence by the time she was found.

“She has a small injury on one of her wings, so we’re just monitoring that at the moment,” Ms Hansen said.

Dog attacks on Flying-foxes were reported to WIRES in Colyton on August 5 and Blacktown on August 9, although that bat was never located.

Ms Hansen has the bat found in Claremont Meadows in her care at her home in Pendle Hill.


Rhonda Hansen with the rescued bat which was found cold and thin on the ground.

“If there’s no injuries I normally keep them a minimum of four weeks, to make sure their wings don’t break down,” Ms Hansen said.

“That’s how long it might take for an injury to appear, as well.

“They then go to Kukundi (a flying fox crèche and adult flight facility in Lane Cove National Park) where they’re put into a flight aviary for two to three weeks, to make sure that they’re flying.

“They’ll also be flight-tested before they’re released.”

Three flying-fox species are commonly found in Western Sydney: Grey-headed flying-fox (a threatened species), black flying-fox (the largest flying-fox species in Australia), and the Little red flying-fox.

Smaller than the others, and less than half the weight, Little red flying-foxes occasionally turn up in Penrith and Parramatta Park, Ms Stanford said.


It is estimated between 1000 and 1500 bats live in this Emu Plains colony, pictured in 2015 and one of about 18 colonies across Sydney. Picture: Matthew Sullivan

“You’ve got some quite unspoilt bushland around Warragamba, so there’s food out there for them,” Ms Stanford said.

“There’s also two day roosts at Emu Plains, along the Nepean River, and one in Yarramundi.”

Ms Stanford warned anyone who finds a distressed bat not to try and touch it.

Last year WIRES caught what was believed to be the first bat in the Penrith area to test positively to the deadly Lyssavirus virus — a rabies-like virus which is fatal to humans.


The grey-headed flying-fox, caught on the Nepean Riverbank in Emu Plains on October 6, had to be euthanised.

“We’re trained and appropriately vaccinated and clothed, so if we do get scratched it’s not a disaster,” Ms Stanford said.

“We will try and get out within a couple of hours at the most.”

BEWARE OF VIRUS

■ Do not touch an injured or ill flying-fox. Instead, call WIRES (1300 094 737) or Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services (9413 4300)

■ Until help arrives, cover a bat on the ground with a box, washing basket or similar. Do not disturb a bat low in a tree, or tangled in netting

■ If bitten or scratched, clean the wound with soap and water immediately. Also see a GP and contact the Public Health Unit on 1300 066 055

■ There is a 50 per cent mortality rate in humans for Hendra virus; the natural host for the virus is the Flying fox

■ It is illegal and unsafe to keep a flying-fox as a pet

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Megabats and Microbats: Mystery over bats falling from the skies could be due to food shortage after heavy rains
Mystery over bats falling from the skies could be due to food shortage after heavy rains
Mystery over bats falling from the skies could be due to food shortage after heavy rains
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