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A moving tale


 
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Nancy Pallin, from the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society, revisits the bat colony in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens, now that its relocation has been approved.     
In May 2010, the federal Environment Minister, Peter Garret, approved the application by Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens Trust to relocate its flying fox colony. The flying foxes do damage the trees in which they roost with their sharp claws. There is also concern from the Trust that the camp could get larger killing more trees in the future.

There is no doubt that flying foxes are more common in cities, as they have lost habitats in fringe and rural areas and this situation will only worsen as cities get larger. In fact, from Nancy’s perspective, the only hope for flying foxes is to have habitats restored in rural areas between the Great Dividing Range and the coast. The Hunter River, for example could have riverside vegetation restored which would not only benefit flying-foxes but also other threatened species such as the Swift parrot and the Regent honeyeater. Water quality would also improve. However, mature eucalypts are still being felled on private land for timber and firewood – faster than they can regrow. Each one is a loss of flying-fox food – nectar and pollen.

The relocation at the Royal Botanic Gardens has stringent conditions on the approval including a research project. The number of grey-headed flying-foxes in the Botanic Garden camp and in other camps in Sydney is to be regularly monitored. Researchers will tag 100 flying-foxes and fit them with radio transmitters or satellite transmitters in the ratio of 9:1. These add weight to the bats and, because there were not enough females of the right size to be fitted, the relocation has been cancelled for this year. The extreme weather this year has caused a serious food shortage so many, especially females are under weight.

The operation is scheduled to take place between 1 May and 31 July in 2011 and if necessary in subsequent years until 2039. These months are outside the bats' breeding season. The relocation rules that the flying-foxes can be disturbed with sound. There is approval for the use of passive measures outside that period but it is unclear what those measures will be. The approval also requires three observers and an advisory panel of five flying-fox researchers appointed so that compliance can be monitored.

An organisation, Bat Advocacy (supported by the Humane Society International), has challenged the Minister’s approval in the Federal Court citing the conditions of approval. The approval is for twenty years. Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society is very concerned about such a long time frame because much could change in even five years, with knowledge from the radio and satellite tracking research. Flying-fox camps tend to be in the tallest trees and near water, but no one is certain where the flying-foxes will end up.

Text: V.B.  August 2010

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A case of not in my backyard? A brief reprieve for the Sydney Botanic Gardens' colony

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