Flying foxes are a keystone species- Their diet is nectar, pollen and fruit.
Their ecological role is pollination and seed dispersal, flying long distances to carry (genetic material) valuable to our forests and ecosystems.
FLYING FOXES by bat expert Lawrence Pope
Flying foxes belong to chiroptera (hand-wing) or bats. Unlike small insect-eating “microbats” flying foxes do not have echolocation and use their eyes and ears like all other mammals. There are four species of native flying foxes on the Australian mainland. Little Red, Black, Grey-headed andSpectacled. Flying foxes are a keystone species. Their diet is nectar, pollen and fruit obtained at night when native tree flowers produce most of their nectar. Their ecological role is that of pollination and seed dispersal.
By flying long distances from their camps each evening (30-40 kilometres) and between camps (100’s of kilometres) the bats carry seed and pollen(genetic material) to other forests and trees. The out-cross pollination is valuable to our forests and ecosystems ensuring a healthy flow of new genes.
All flying foxes species have declined since European settlement. The Spectacled flying foxes (Range – Nth QLD) and Grey-headed flying foxes (range: east coast from northern NSW to Geelong) are the most endangered with declines of more than ninety-five percent in the past century. Both species are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and high levels of state protection.
At the current rate of decline both species may be functionally extinct by 2030.
The greatest threats to flying foxes are :
-Shooting by orchardists. Both legal and illegal.
-Land clearing resulting in mass-starvation events.
-Flying fox camp disturbances and dispersal
-Domestic backyard fruit tree entanglement.
What is needed:
A ban on all shooting of flying foxes on the basis of environmental and cruelty grounds.
Flying foxes typically take hours or days to die when shot in orchards.
Very few are killed outright. Remember they are shot at night with shotguns.
Lactating females shot either with a pup on board or waiting for her to return to the colony increases the level of cruelty involved as these pups starve to death. NSW continues to issue permits for orchardists to shoot flying foxes. This system is currently under review. Shooting is banned elsewhere though it remains widespread. Prosecutions for illegal shooting are rare to non-existent.
– Govt’ subsidies to enable all commercial fruit growers to net their orchards. Netting increases profitability while eliminating the need to shoot flying foxes (and birds). In the interim a ban on shooting and some form of financial compensation for growers impacted on by flying foxes
-Enforce state and local land clearing restrictions.
-Reforest where possible.
In most cases flying fox camp dispersals are not successful, unnecessary and very stressful to animals.
Illegal camp disturbances continue, with entire camps destroyed as in Dulguigan NSW 2008.
Sydney Botanic Gardens has plans to disperse its Grey headed flying fox colony, likely to result in bats dispersing to areas of Sydney where they are unwanted. Melbourne undertook a successful removal of its colony in 2003 with the colony re-established on the Yarra River in 30 hectares of bush-parkland. However Melbourne’s situation topographically and environmentally is significantly different to that of Sydney.
Domestic Backyard Fruit Tree Netting
Thousands of flying foxes become entangled in backyard netting each year. It consumes considerable wildlife rescuer and carer’s time and energy. Many animals suffer serious injuries from the thin netting requiring expensive medications and long treatment times. Most animals are euthanased.
A ban on black netting.? A ban on monofilament netting The development of wildlife safer, heavier netting. Thin netting cuts and debrides tissue resulting in the worse injuries. Encourage the public to share at least some of their backyard fruit with wildlife as a contribution to conservation.
Flying foxes are clean healthy animals. But, like all animals they may carry organisms that can cause disease.
Lyssavirus: A small number of bats carry lyssavirus. It can only be transmitted by bite.
If bitten by an infected flying fox an effective post-exposure vaccine is available. See doctor as soon as possible.
Hendra Virus: There is no evidence that humans can contract hendra virus from flying foxes.
Consult relevant state and fed govt websites and health authorities for updated information.