Problems facing flying foxes in Queensland
Bats, also known as flying foxes, are undoubtedly the most demonised and misunderstood native animal in Queensland. They face challenges and hazards on many fronts – mostly related to human activity and human hysteria - yet these gentle and highly intelligent creatures are most deserving of our protection.
In 2008 the state Labor Government accepted the advice of its Animal Welfare Advisory Committee that shooting flying foxes was inhumane because of the small probability that they would killed instantly, given their small head size. However, in 2012 the Newman LNP Government reversed these laws and introduced new laws sanctioning the killing of flying foxes, including two threatened species – the Spectacled and Grey-headed flying-foxes. Ironically these new laws came into effect on Threatened Species Day. The government now issues Damage Mitigation Permits to allow fruit-growers to legally shoot flying-foxes.
In amending the law to exempt flying-foxes from the humaneness requirements under the Nature Conservation Act, the government clearly showed its understanding that shooting of bats is not humane! Its decision also showed it did not care about the suffering that bats would endure because of its policy. This is a disgrace. Queensland fruit growers are now permitted to shoot flying-foxes, despite the known high rate of wounding and prolonged suffering. There is also the added uncontrollable risk of orphaned flying foxes slowly perishing from starvation if the mother is culled. Up to 10,500 flying-foxes can now be legally shot each year. It is likely though that larger scale illegal shooting occurs.
Dispersals (forced relocations)
The State Government announced in May 2013 that councils will be given the authority to manage ‘problem’ flying fox roosts in urban areas without having to apply for a government permit, as was previously the case.
Dispersing a colony greatly stresses the bats and is often unsuccessful. Often the bats end up in places where they are more difficult to manage.
Despite this, more councils are electing to try the dispersal option for local bat colonies. Perhaps they favour a quick fix method of allaying many people’s ignorant and unfounded fears about the threat of bat-borne diseases. What a shame that they prefer to do this instead of educating their local communities about the very low threat of disease.
The reality is that if people do not handle bats they simply will not catch Australian Bat Lyssavirus, a very rare disease spread by bites or scratches from an infected bat. The other disease associated with bats, Hendra virus, cannot be passed directly from bat to humans. It is spread from bat to horse to human and there is now a vaccine for horses. Anti-bat hysteria is not warranted in the slightest in terms of them posing a threat to our health.
While less than 0.1% of the bat population carries the Lyssavirus, they are more at risk when sick. The added stress of dispersals will only increase the strain on their immune systems, and potentially increase the number of animals carrying it. Ironically the fear of disease that is prompting these dispersals is actually exacerbating the chance of higher incidence of the disease.
Some community members also complain about the noise and smell of flying foxes. For starters, if people don’t try to disperse them, they are much quieter! To further reduce the noise and to reduce the smell for those times when it may be bothersome, people can try installing double glaze windows, closing the windows and turning the air conditioning on.
We look forward to more progressive councils and governments in the future showing leadership and encouraging citizens to have more tolerance for wildlife whose habitat is steadily shrinking. Local communities should be given strategies for living successfully with flying foxes.
Caught in backyard fruit tree netting
Unfortunately there is a lot of cheap netting available that puts our wildlife at risk. Bats, as well as birds & snakes, get entangled in the net while trying to reach the fruit, causing circulation cutoff, bruising, breaking of bones, wounds caused by skin abrasions. Often these wounds are so terrible that the animal needs to be euthanased, and mothers will often abort their foetuses under such stress.
I don’t want to hurt the bats, but I would like some fruit left for myself. What other options do I have?
- Use 30 – 50% shade cloth instead
- Fruit bags over individual pieces of fruit also works
- When in doubt – use the “finger test” – if you can pass your finger through the holes in the netting, it is hazardous to wildlife
I don’t own fruit trees, but I still want to help. Any suggestions?
- If you see a yard with netting, pop some information in their letter box so they can make an informed decision. An example of a great brochure can be found here: http://www.bats.org.au/downloads/garden_fruit_trees_and_wildlife_08.pdf
- Write to your local hardware store asking to please stock humane netting such as Hailguard, and request that wildlife information be put up near the netting so that consumers are aware of the risks with cheaper netting alternatives.
- Buy a roll of Hailguard and donate to your local bat group, such as Bat Conservation & Rescue (www.bats.org.au). This enables rescuers to offer a more humane alternative when freeing bats from treacherous netting.
Caught on power lines
Sadly many of our batty friends fall victim to electrocution due to increased habitat destruction leading to smaller roosts throughout urban towns, surrounded by power lines. Less than 0.1% of adults survive electrocution, and the vast majority of victims are mothers carrying babies.
That’s terrible. What can I do?
- If you see a bat on a power line, take a moment to see if you can see any movement on the bat – a baby may be on its dead mother. Clap your hands loudly to see if there is any response from the mother or baby. Take note of the pole number and street number & address and call Energex on 13 62 62. Even if there appears to be no baby to save, it draws attention to hotspots where wiring may need to be upgraded to reduce fatalities to our wildlife. There is also a chance that a baby hiding underneath their wing is not visible.
- Don’t grow native trees underneath power lines.
- Let others know what to do if they see dead bats on power lines – baby bats usually survive the electrocution, and can take up to five days to perish on their dead mother.
Caught on barbed wire
Barbed wire is often seen as a great deterrent for both unwanted human and large animal visitors. Unfortunately, other animals unintentionally fall victim to its efficient physical restraint. It is indiscriminate in nature, with many vulnerable and endangered species becoming hopelessly entangled, and dying a slow painful death. Bats are not the only victim; macropods, possums, koalas and birds also fall victim.
That’s terrible. What can I do?
- If you see a property or business with barbed wire, pop some information on alternatives in their letter box – a good example is http://www.wildlifefriendlyfencing.com/WFF/This_-_education_files/fencing.pdf
- If you use barbed wire and are unwilling to use alternatives:
- replace the top strand of the fence with plain wire
- use CDs or flags to make it more visible at night
- don’t grow native plants near barbed wire
Killed or made ill by Cocus palms
Cocos palms (Syagrus romanzoffiana) may seem attractive in your garden, but can be deadly to our batty friends in several ways:
- their unripe seeds are toxic to bats, who will often eat them when food is scarce
- bats often get entangled in the leaves and flower stem, resulting in self-mutilation and often death
- the hard seed wears down the bat’s teeth prematurely which causes problems in feeding
- the hard seed can get lodged behind the canine teeth in juveniles, leading to a slow death by starvation
What can I do about it?
- plant natives to offer the bats an alternative food source
- if you know anyone with cocos palms, educate them
- if you see cocos palms on a property, leave a brochure in their letter box
Here’s an excellent brochure to print off, courtesy of Bat Conservation & Rescue Qld: http://www.bats.org.au/downloads/cocos_palms.pdf
Bats face so many problems! How can I help?
- Please voice your concerns and outrage about the legalisation of shooting in the local newspapers, Facebook, and most importantly, to your local state government MP.
- Provide an alternative voice to any anti-bat sentiments expressed in the media. Protest against inaccurate but common descriptions of bats as ‘pests’. Point out that ‘health concerns’ are easily managed if bats are not handled.
- Show your support by joining groups such as Bat Conservation & Rescue (www.bats.org.au) – your membership funds important work educating the public and adding pressure to the politicians.
- Get vaccinated and become a carer of these beautiful creatures – it only requires three injections, blood tests every year or two, and of course, training. See www.bats.org.au for more information.
- Are you able to remain calm in stressful situations? If so, please contact ALQ or a bat rescue group to volunteer your time to witness a Damage Mitigation Permit being carried out. Please contact ALQ for further information.