A University of Queensland academic has co-written the world's first book dealing with flying foxes, which has been released this week.
Dr Les Hall, a senior lecturer in Veterinary Pathology and Anatomy and wildlife consultant Greg Richards have spent 30 years researching flying foxes.
They have written the new book, Flying Foxes and Fruit Blossom Bats of Australia (UNSW Press, $32.95), which summarises current knowledge on flying foxes.
The book is based on Dr Hall's and Mr Richards' own research and includes information from the research of colleagues such as Professor Jack Pettigrew, Dr Len Martin, and postgraduate students Patrina Birt and Nicki Markus.
The book is illustrated with photographs by BBC natural history photographer Theo Allofs and Queensland illustrator Louise Saunders.
Dr Hall said flying foxes had recently emerged as one of the key native wildlife species in urban areas, providing a spectacular show with their nightly aerial flights, and providing economic value as a tourist attraction. These species were also important to Australian forests because of their pollination and seed dispersal activities.
As the most easily seen mammal species in many areas, they were having an impact on many groups, and more people than before were now involved in flying fox issues.
Local governments were interested in the impact of flying fox camps on neighbours; individuals were concerned about noise and chatter; health departments and the horse racing industry were interested in some new emerging viruses; and farmers were concerned about fruit loss.
Tourist operators regarded them as a key ecotourism species; universities are using them as research animals; and parks and wildlife authorities were interested in their management.
Dr Hall said many people interacting with flying foxes had the impression there were more flying foxes than ever. This impression was caused by the urban and coastal movement of flying fox species.
"In fact, flying foxes are actually undergoing a dramatic decrease in numbers because of tree clearing, habitat loss and orchard culling," he said.
"In Central Queensland the flowering eucalypt trees that flying foxes should be feeding on in winter are being chopped down. As a result, hungry flying foxes are travelling to the coast and ravaging orchards.
"Flying foxes are messengers of what we're doing to our environment. We shouldn't be shooting the messengers but regarding them as important indicators of the health of our environment."
He said one species, the grey headed flying fox, had dwindled to an estimated 25 percent of its 1975 population.
"In 1998 the numbers dropped to less than 400,000 of this species which is distributed from Melbourne to Bundaberg. In 1975 I counted that number alone at two camps in south-east Queensland," he said.
The book contains information on most aspects of flying fox biology including identification, anatomy, physiology, management and care in captivity.
Images of Dr Hall are available at: http://photos.cc.uq.edu.au/les%20hall%20flying%20foxes/index.htm
Media: For further information contact Dr Les Hall, telephone 07 3365 2088 or Jan King at UQ Communications 0413 601 248.
Or email: email@example.com
Flying Foxes is the first illustrated guide dedicated to Australia's thirteen species of Megachiroptera. These 'mega' bats do not comply with standard bat stereotypes: while they are nocturnal, they live in forests rather than caves, they navigate by sight rather than echolocation, and their long snouts and large ears and eyes give them a canine like look - hence the description of 'flying foxes'. Perhaps because of their appearance, as well as their intelligence, flying foxes are regarded with much affection in Australia and are sometimes kept as family pets.
The book contains superb colour photographs, including many by acclaimed wildlife photographer, Theo Allofs, and line drawings by Louise Saunders.