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SPECTACLED FLYING FOX - Creative Cowboy Films


One special thing we wanted to do when we first visited the Asia Pacific, many decades ago now, was to meet the Flying Fox.

"These very beautiful animals of course play an important role in the Australian ecosystem, distributing fruit and seeds and pollinating native plants, are examples"

Our first encounter, and after a long bike ride across the island, was on Tongatapu, the main island in the Kingdom of Tonga.

Today we are in North Queensland, Australia, which is home to the Spectacled Flying Fox, a species of Flying Fox adapted to life in the rainforest. Significant areas of the rainforest in North Queensland have been felled. The reasons for this are many, the way we measure the value of nature, agricultural of various kinds and urban development. This means that the Flying Fox's habitat is ever shrinking.

The Spectacled Flying Fox is listed in Australia as vulnerable and its range is relatively small. One of Australia’s Flying Fox species, the Christmas Island Flying Fox, is now critically endangered, another Queensland species, the Dusky Flying Fox is now extinct, with many other species, due to habitat loss, climate change and government permitted culling programs, in decline.

There is no particular safe haven for Flying Foxes in Australia as they face propaganda from a number of politicians who see a vote in their destruction. There are such individuals at all levels of Australian Governments. These attitudes apply particularly, but not only, in Queensland and New South Wales, where animosity towards the Grey-Headed Flying-Fox (listed as vulnerable) continues to intensify.

While some species of Australian Flying Foxes such as the Little Red Flying Fox, which is also being displaced from its habitats, and the Grey-Headed Flying Fox are more mobile in terms of possible habitat migration, the Spectacled Flying Fox is restricted to rainforest areas and close surrounds and is likely to be even more vulnerable to the various threats facing all Flying Foxes.

Strangely many of the people we meet in Australia appear to have an intense dislike of Flying Foxes. These very beautiful animals of course play an important role in the Australian ecosystem, with the Spectacled Flying Fox distributing rainforest fruits and seeds and pollinating native plants, just one example. The white settler myths about what Flying Foxes do and do not do are many and most are highly dubious.

Flying Foxes live in colonies and forage for food during the night, the spectacular dusk departures of Flying Foxes from their daytime roosts or camps have been a feature of the tropical night sky for millions of years.

Because of daytime roosting patterns Flying Foxes are very vulnerable to climate change and heat events and mass die offs of colonies are occurring in Australian states such as Victoria and New South Wales because of heat stress. Flying Foxes of all ages are impacted. In the tropical north more intense cyclones are a growing threat to populations of these animals.

Living in large colonies has given Flying Foxes super immunity to a range of diseases that are currently deadly to humans so we have a lot to learn from them. In the case of the Spectacled Flying Fox it now has significant health problems of its own. Habitat loss means having to find other food sources and what has occurred in North Queensland means that the Spectacled Flying Fox is now vulnerable to tick paralysis, an increasingly common problem.
Standards of Governance
"The council bat tree saga will roll into a third year after plans for a November trial were abandoned because the Environment Department is still preparing its case. The department took the Cairns Regional Council to court after the council refused to pay fines imposed for allegedly noncompliant trimming of flying fox habitat in the CBD last year."
Cairns Post 5 October 2015

The Australian bat wars, as we call them, have taken on an interesting dimension in the North Queensland city of Cairns where its regional council, no doubt encouraged by a recent premier of Queensland and his bizarre and outdated attitudes, is trying to remove long term Spectacled Flying Fox camp sites around the Cairns library and adjacent areas, a draw card for tourists (including us many decades ago) where the historic and very large trees and their Flying Fox colonies have long been a wonderful heritage and nature feature of the city.


Confused?

In an attempt to rid the city of the Spectacled Flying Fox these historic trees have now been hacked to remove major branches to stop the Flying Foxes roosting in these camps. What now appears to have happened is that the Flying Foxes have been dispersed and are appearing in trees where they did not occur before. The council itself appears confused with a range of contradictory and confusing messages about Flying Foxes. Attitudes towards Australia’s wildlife in Cairn’s are not positive, strange given this is the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and tourism is a major industry.

We note that, in yet another set of Queensland mixed metaphors some native species are proudly displayed on the side of the city's rubbish bins (which are great bits of design). If only the living counterparts were given equal respect.

As for our Spectacled Flying Fox, its numbers have declined significantly. Population estimates from 1985 suggest that the total population was around 820,000, today it is well below 200,000 animals representing a likely decline in the overall population of close to 80 per cent. Populations were not helped by the mass execution of Flying Foxes (up to 500 each night) by the use of electrical grids by some landholders. This practice was banned in 2001 because of the horrendous cruelty being dished out to these animals and a subsequent ban by the Federal Court. In recent times more extreme elements of the government have not ruled out reversing the ban. The grids remain so we are uncertain as to adequacy relating to the supervision of the ban.


Cairns bat camp

True to form the Queensland Government has not listed the Spectacled Flying Fox as vulnerable as this would limit the opportunities to further endanger the species by clearing the species away from as many places as possible. Australia’s Commonwealth Government does list the species as vulnerable.

Flying Foxes have always had a place in the cultures of the Indigenous peoples of the Pacific, as totems to some, as a food source to others and always deeply connected to the mythologies of these peoples.

Today Flying Foxes are part of the growing list of Australia’s wildlife species that are not wanted or tolerated. It is now time to change this story and to accept these animals exist and to live with them in acceptance and harmony. If we do not do this we will come to learn that their loss will also become our loss, a loss that our own species can ill afford.

Smaller colonies of the Spectacled Flying Fox means an empty tropical dusk sky

The fact that Australian Governments are still persecuting endangered, threatened and vulnerable species is both depressing and disgraceful. Educating people in Australia about the very special wildlife that live on the unique continent that is Australia, with all its wonderful plants and animals, is going to have to be a priority if many of these species are to survive in to the future.

CULTURE NOTE: Flying Fox in a Freedom Tree (originally published by Longman Paul in Auckland) is Albert Wendt’s collection of short stories from Samoa. These stories describe the unease of a traditional island community caught up in the rapid changes of the modern world. Albert is the reason we first visited the Pacific region all those years ago so to us the Flying Fox has a very significant place in out lives. During our visit to Western Samoa in the mid nineteen seventies the impact of the rapid changes occurring in Samoa were obvious and we found the process stressful and difficult to observe, so the disruption of cultural influences from elsewhere and the rapid changes these things delivered must have been very hard for many of the islanders to navigate.


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Megabats and Microbats: SPECTACLED FLYING FOX - Creative Cowboy Films
SPECTACLED FLYING FOX - Creative Cowboy Films
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