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Wildlife rescuers warn public not to touch bats, as suburban sightings increase

WIRES is urging people not to touch any injured, sick or abandoned flying foxes. Photo: R Hansen, WIRES

A shortage of food is driving hungry flying foxes into suburban Sydney yards, increasing their risk of injury and death and potentially exposing humans to a deadly virus.

With a growing number of flying foxes in need of assistance, wildlife rescue organisation WIRES is urging members of the community not to touch the animals but to phone for help, to protect themselves as well as the flying foxes.

A lack of flowering native trees and plants along the coasts of NSW and Victoria has increased the number of flying foxes foraging for food in people's yards and getting tangled in fruit tree netting, with wide-holed nets posing a particular threat.

WIRES flying fox coordinator Storm Stanford said volunteers had rescued 160 bats in the past week - 10 times more than during the same period last year.

WIRES is responding to dozens of calls to rescue flying foxes. Photo: WIRES

People were making well-intentioned attempts to rescue them, but it was safer all round if they did not touch the animals, she said.

Australian bat lyssavirus (ABLV) - thought to be carried by less than one per cent of wild bat populations - can be transmitted to humans via a bite or a scratch from an infected animal. Only three cases of human infection have been recorded since the virus was first identified in 1996, but all were fatal.

Under NSW Health regulations if someone is scratched or bitten by a flying fox, the animal must be tested for ABLV, which results in them being euthanised.

"We understand members of the community are very compassionate and care about our native wildlife," Ms Stanford said. "However, if someone is not vaccinated against lyssavirus and attempts to rescue a flying fox, it puts both the member of public and the animal in a potentially dangerous situation. You can keep yourself safe and save their lives if you simply don't touch and just call WIRES as soon as possible."

As native animals, flying foxes are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act. Australia's largest native bat, the grey-headed flying fox, is listed as a vulnerable species.

Ms Stanford said there were high numbers of bats around Sydney, particularly on the south side of the harbour. WIRES has received reports of cruelty as sightings have increased.

"In my experience most people are animal lovers and go above and beyond to save the life of an animal in need," Ms Stanford said. "Unfortunately there are the exceptions and each season we deal with upsetting cases. I have seen flying foxes beaten with sticks and injured and recently rushed to the aid of a flying fox that had been tossed out like rubbish in a plastic bag. Unfortunately he died a short time later from his injuries."

WIRES advises that if you see an abandoned, sick or injured flying fox, do not try to catch or handle it. Call WIRES immediately on 1300 094 737 or the WIRES flying fox only emergency hotline on 0405 724 635.

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Megabats and Microbats: Wildlife rescuers warn public not to touch bats, as suburban sightings increase
Wildlife rescuers warn public not to touch bats, as suburban sightings increase
Wildlife rescuers warn public not to touch bats, as suburban sightings increase
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