Bats & Flying Foxes

Flying foxes are the only known pollinators of some rainforest species; therefore have a vital role in our ecology

The AJP Position

The AJP will offer a fresh approach to animals by designing policies and regulations that respect flying foxes and bats for their intrinsic worth and help provide and maintain their basic needs, instead of seeing them merely as ‘pests’.

AJP Policy Objectives

The AJP is seriously concerned about the disinformation circulated in the community against bats and will actively work to:

  • facilitate proper scientific investigation into whether or not flying foxes are the cause of Hendra virus in horses and widely publicise the results in order to alleviate community concerns
  • give utmost protection to flying foxes, the foremost forest-makers, by outlawing the killing of flying foxes by landholders for damage mitigation (whether deliberately by shooting and electrocution or from being entangled in nets) and by increasing flying foxes’ foraging habitat of native flora, their first food preference
  • find solutions in areas where humans and flying foxes overlap and flying foxes are deemed to be a problem for people
  • mandate the use of taut netting over frames that do not touch trees or crops (called canopy or tunnel netting) rather than loose netting thrown over trees, in order to prevent flying foxes becoming entangled and dying. Canopy netting has the highest success rate in protecting orchards
  • reduce and eliminate the negative culture towards flying foxes and bats by informing urban and rural landowners of bats’ unique and irreplaceable ecological benefits
  • review and change relevant wildlife legislation, policies and the agencies administering them that directly enable brutality towards and killing of flying foxes and bats
  • increase and enforce penalties for wildlife cruelty
  • bring a sense of balance to conservation practices that unfairly and unethically target flying foxes and bats
  • eradicate the perception of flying foxes and bats as ‘pests’ to be culled or relocated
  • encourage increased growth in and support for wildlife-based tourism in Australia
  • review the policies for licensing, and the operational practices of, wildlife caring and rehabilitation groups and individuals
  • ban the use of barbed wire and electrified fencing in rural residential areas where they are a hazard to flying foxes and bats as well as to birds, kangaroos, gliders, possums, wallabies and people!

AJP Policy Goals

The Animal Justice Party will:

EDUCATE

Produce an educational booklet to inform the public, students and bureaucrats about the ecological benefits flying foxes bring to Australia. Without pollinators such as flying foxes, bees, and butterflies we would not have more than a third of all the fruits and vegetables we eat. If they disappear so do we. Scientists regard the loss of pollinators as the most serious issue facing mankind (1). Increased fragmentation of the landscape has made smaller honeyeater birds more geographically isolated, so maintenance of the diversity of our forest species is now more reliant upon the flying fox family than ever.

In their nightly foraging, flying foxes fly from tree to tree dusting with flower pollen, or ejecting the seeds of fruit they have eaten, effectively regenerating woodlands and forests by dispersing up to 60,000 seeds each every night. Many eucalypts produce most of their nectar at night to attract these exceptional pollinators. Flying about 20-50km a night between food trees and their camp, this keystone species maintains the genetic diversity of native trees and re-forests gaps. This ecosystem service will become increasingly important in facilitating the flow of adaptive genes between trees and assisting plant dispersal (2). Conserving long-distance pollinators is a high priority with the AJP because without flying foxes we would lose our World Heritage forests, eucalypts and melaleucas, along with hardwood timber and food crops (including bananas, cashews, avocados, dates, mangos, peaches, paw paw and durian)which rely on bats for pollination. Flying foxes also help eucalypts to cope with climate disruption (3).

FLYING FOX HABITAT PROTECTION

Stop the deforestation of flowering eucalypt trees that flying foxes should be feeding on in winter, and without which hungry flying foxes travel to the coast to feed in orchards.

Support programs that work with landowners to obtain Nature Conservation Trust covenants on their land and for those covenants to include the protection of flying foxes, the planting of native blossoming trees and the removal of barbed wire fencing, especially on the top strand.

DISEASE RESEARCH

Fund more scientific research to determine the cause of HeV in horses. After 15 years of research it was discovered that, ‘It is possible to transmit HeV from cats to horses. Transmission from Pt. poliocephalus to horses could not be proven and neither could transmission from horses to cats. Under the experimental conditions of the study the virus is not highly contagious.’ (4)

According to Les Hall, senior lecturer in Veterinary Pathology and Anatomy, there is no direct route from flying foxes to horses for HeV. (5)

Flying foxes have no more diseases than any other wildlife. The many thousands of people who have been in close contact with flying foxes as wildlife carers have not suffered any adverse health consequences. Flying foxes are known to host three viruses that very rarely cause illness in humans. Only one person is known to have died due to contact with a flying fox infected with Australian bat lyssavirus. This can only be transmitted when infected bat saliva comes into contact with human tissue through an open wound. Only people who have been vaccinated against lyssavirus should handle bats.

On rare occasions Hendra virus is transmitted to humans from horses, but it is not transmitted by flying foxes. Horse owners can take precautions to limit risks. People are not at risk of disease by living near a colony, or if flying foxes fly overhead or feed in their gardens.

Menangle virus, which has caused a flu-like illness in two people, is transmitted from pigs.

Produce an information booklet educating people about the fact that they cannot contract any viruses from bats except through a bite or scratch from an infected animal that draws blood, in which case they should thoroughly wash and rinse the wound and contact their local doctor or health department immediately so that the appropriate course of medical treatment can be administered.

Educate horse owners as to the ways in which they can avoid HeV such as:

  1. keeping food and water away from overhanging trees in which bats may feed or roost
  2. fence around roosting or fruiting trees so that horses cannot shelter under them
  3. considering other species a HeV horse might have been exposed to (e.g. dogs, cats, rats, mice, brushtail possums, bandicoots, hares, carpet pythons, ticks, mosquitoes and march flies)
  4. stabling horses at night to reduce contact with other species
  5. ensuring that feed is not contaminated with cat, rat or mouse droppings

REDUCE CONFLICT BETWEEN BATS AND HUMANS

Reduce and eliminate conflict between flying foxes and orchardists. Mandate non-lethal methods, such as canopy netting, to protect orchardists’ crops. Research has shown that canopy netting is best-practice protection for orchards, while shooting and other deterrents do not work effectively. Orchardists will therefore save money in the long run. (6)

Netting can be cost effective even if only small crop savings are achieved. For example, the netting of a 1.36ha orchard would provide a 30% return on investment if only 15% of the crop was saved per year over 10 years, and the netting of a 4.28ha orchard would also produce a 30% return on investment if only 12.5% of the crop was saved per year over 10 years. Appropriate netting also protects against possums, birds and rats, as well as creating a microclimate and improving yield.

Reduce and eliminate conflict between urban and rural residents and landholders and flying foxes. Since bats often choose urban areas in which to roost, with resulting conflicts between flying foxes and humans, research needs to be carried out into methods of deterring flying foxes near residential areas (as opposed to forced relocation which has little success, is extremely expensive, and raises significant animal welfare concerns). These could include the following:

  1. Develop alternative flying fox roosting locations that include native food trees so that flying foxes do not rely on orchards and therefore impinge upon humans. Non-residential urban areas such as parklands, golf courses and even cemeteries can be planted with a range of native trees that provide fruit (e.g. small-leaved figs) and nectar (e.g. eucalypts and melaleucas). This would provide feeding sites away from residential areas and corridors for flying foxes to travel between remnant forests. If these natural food sources are available when commercial fruit trees are bearing fruit, flying foxes are less likely to be perceived as a problem.
  2. Remove the lower branches of trees and clear the understorey, to create a buffer between roosting animals and surrounding residents. Such actions would need to be undertaken carefully, preferably in conjunction with the creation of suitable habitat elsewhere, and subject to a monitoring program. Further research needs to be done into the factors influencing the establishment and persistence of flying fox camps.(7)
  3. Low, dense trees and shrubs planted around fence lines also form a barrier that flying foxes are unlikely to roost in.(8)
  4. A camp can be encouraged to move (which is not the same as forced relocation) by planting roost trees further away from houses. Surveys of flying fox camps in New South Wales have shown that a distance of as little as 100 metres from neighbouring houses can be enough to reduce the
  5. Produce an information booklet educating people on how they can live with bats while they are temporarily feeding on flowering and fruiting trees (e.g. bring in the washing at night, cover the car, lop branches of fruit trees overhanging balconies, decks, driveways etc.). Shadecloth could also be thrown over the tree to prevent bats from feeding in it. However nylon netting thrown over trees entangles bats and is therefore inhumane. (9)
  • It cuts off circulation and cuts into mouths and wings
  • It breaks bones and cuts flesh
  • Bats are often pecked by birds while trapped, causing fear, pain, injury and distress
  • Many are mothers with babies, so two generations die in the net
  • If not already dead when found, bats often need to be euthanased as a result of  their terrible injuries.

Inexpensive and humane alternatives to loose netting are:

  • shadecloth pegged to the branches
  • flower pots cut up the side and hung like a bell over larger fruit
  • commercially-available fruit bags or paper bags.

The AJP will encourage developers who wish to develop land next to a known flying fox colony to consider any perceived impacts of noise, odour and mess and implement strategies to minimise potential conflict. Many developers appreciate any advice they can obtain before building (10) such as to:

  1. Incorporate a buffer zone between the building and roost trees. This ideally should not be paved or made of concrete in order to reduce the visibility and impact of droppings.
  2. Plant low-growing fragrant shrubs to discourage travel into the site and reduce odour problems. Planting tall trees will eventually bring the bats closer to the development.
  3. Consider double glazing in order to minimise noise disturbance.
  4. Design the building/s so that the prevailing winds decrease the impact of odour.
  5. Ensure that cars can be parked under cover.
  6. Ensure washing lines are protected from droppings by placing them in the open away from trees and away from night-time flight paths.
  7. Subsidise landholders in areas where forests currently exist, or as encouragement to plant suitable native food trees for flying foxes. Funds for these subsidies could come from income raised from eco-tourism ventures.

GIVE MORE LEGAL PROTECTION TO BATS

  • Expose and penalise those members of the conservation movement who encourage cruelty toward flying foxes and bats to support their case (often for research funding).
  • Ban all flying fox and bat slaughter (including destruction permits for farmers) except where animals are deemed by a specialist wildlife vet to be irreversibly injured or sick.
  • Increase and enforce penalties for the killing of bats in any way other than accidentally.
  • Outlaw barbed wire and other wildlife-unfriendly fencing and mandate rural landowners to replace it with single-strand plain wire.

INCREASE ECO-TOURISM POTENTIAL

Root out the myths that flying foxes and bats are pests and disease carrying, replacing these myths with models for sustainable nature-based tourism that instead celebrate our unique faunal heritage. The spectacular fly-outs of bats from their campsites could support a growing ecotourism industry. For example, the nightly exodus by thousands of bats from Sparkes Hill can be seen at Grinstead Park, Brisbane. The AJP will create a brochure showing tourists where flying foxes can be viewed. At present other official locations are:

  1. Batty Boat cruises, Brisbane. Watch the flyout from Indooroopilly Island. (12)
  2. Tolga Bat Hospital is open to the public as a visitor centre. (13)
  3. Yarra Bend Park promotes grey-headed flying foxes with a viewing platform and extensive plantings.(14)
  4. Cabramatta Creek Reserve has a viewing platform and revegetation program.
  5. Signage at Black Swamp Camp in Cleveland, Queensland, with a viewing platform on Queen St.
  6. Signage at Cascade Gardens, Surfers Paradise and a viewing platform at The Convention Centre.

Adelaide is planning to create a Bat Park after recently moving a small colony 200m north to a far better (for the bats) location.

SUPPORT WILDLIFE CARERS

  • Train wildlife caring groups in the best practices of flying fox care.
  • Give financial assistance to wildlife carers for the cost of feed, medical supplies and equipment. These costs are currently borne by carers, or may be partially subsidised by wildlife caring groups.
  • Fund clinics staffed by trained wildlife vets and vet nurses, especially in areas in which native animals are

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