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Totally smitten - by a flying fox


 

 
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Marjorie Beck and Janet Hutchinson from the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society (KBCS) recall with their friends some of their experiences with flying foxes over the years.     
The setting was their Christmas party held at the Australian Wildlife Walkabout Park at Calga, which is now home for their two remaining education flying-foxes. It seems most people who end up working with these intriguing animals, stumbled over them and their enchanting ways quite by accident.

 

In Marjorie’s case, she had just retired and was wondering what she would do with her life, when she by chance met up with Elizabeth Hartnell, a foundation member of the KBCS. Elizabeth had with her a flying fox called Stephanie Bat. When Marjorie bent down to see the little bat, Stephanie reached out to touch her and Marjorie was ‘a goner’ immediately and totally smitten.
Within a few months Marjorie found herself on the Society’s committee, involved in promoting flying fox conservation through education and bush regeneration activities.
Left: Marjorie Beck and below right Nancy Pallin in action at community events.


 
Since this first meeting with Stephanie Bat, Marjorie has travelled along an amazing path - she has learnt so much, not just about bats but about the environment as a whole - the interaction of everything. She has met some extraordinary people who give so much of their time and effort in trying to save these environmentally important animals.

 
KBCS’s education program started many years ago as a result of another chance meeting, in this case between children and a bat called Gollum, at the Australian Museum where Nancy Pallin, a foundation member of the KBCS and now the Society’s chairperson, was working as a Science Education Officer.    
Part of her role as an educator was to give talks to the school groups who visited the Museum. During these years when Nancy was at the museum, a young flying fox called Gollum use to come to the museum every day with his carer, Ann. One day, Nancy was at a loss to do something different to entertain the children and thought maybe they would be interested in meeting Gollum.
It was love at first sight - by the children for Gollum and Gollum for his audience. The experience showed just how important it is for people to be able to meet a flying fox and get to know what they really look like, to learn about their amazing wings, why they hang upside down (or batside up as many batting people prefer to say) and can’t walk upright and to see the depth of their interaction with their human handler.
It is the meeting of an animal close up that changes people’s negative perceptions of them.

 
A few years after this first bat talk with Gollum, KBCS established a group of educational flying foxes. These animals were hand reared non releasable orphans.     
The flying foxes, affectionately known as the ‘Ed Bats’, were housed at Lane Cove National Park in an aviary, on view to the thousands of people who regularly visited the Park. They were taken out to meet people at schools, open events, environmental talks and the like. For example, Marjorie and Nancy thought nothing of packing up a few Ed Bats and driving down to places like Jamberoo to give an education talk and then driving back to Sydney at 2am - just another batty night’s activities. All done by volunteers, the KBCS group would take their educational bats wherever and almost whenever people wanted to hear about them.

 

 
Sadly only two of the original Ed Bats, who were gathered together in 1991, are still alive. These animals were moved, with at that time, another three remaining Ed Bats, to the Australian Wildlife Walkabout Park at Calga, half an hour drive north of Sydney. There they formed the foundation of a new group of educational animals and continue with Calga’s now besotted bat carers, their important educational role.

 

 
What became of Gollum?     
When Gollum was a baby, it was not realised that young bats must be socialised with other bats in order to learn proper bat manners and behaviour. He did not meet another bat until he was four years old, didn’t know the rules, and didn’t get on very well with his own kind.
However, he was an outstanding Ed Bat, delighting in the attention and had definite showmanship qualities. But by the time Golly was 11, it was becoming a problem about how to house him happily.
This led to the unusual solution of having Golly live with Janet Hutchinson and her family for the rest of his days. Fine, except Gollum regarded himself as person material and scorned the bat veranda that had been constructed for him, preferring to hang from the screen door and loudly let all and sundry know that he belonged inside as a participating member of the family.

 
Gollum won and a large wire enclosure on wheels - rather like a telephone booth - was built.     
The “Golly Trolley” housed him in the garden during the day and kept him safe from birds and other irritations and brought him in at night or during bad weather to be social with the family. He disliked the TV and just wanted to be held until retiring to the Golly Trolley, hanging up behind his privacy blanket and tucking himself in until morning. These days, since a solitary bat like Gollum is usually miserable, it is illegal to keep flying foxes or other wildlife without a licence. Golly’s human family was lucky. Gollum seemed content and made them feel they had been made honorary flying foxes and part of his personal group. A great honour! For the next nine years, Gollum enjoyed going out on talks with Janet or other KBCS people and was a marvellous ambassador for his kind until he died just short of his twentieth birthday. It was a great loss to everyone who enjoyed his company and education skills.

 
As well as being Gollum’s carer, over a 20 year period Janet reared, or had a hand in rearing, many orphaned baby flying foxes. This stemmed from her first meeting with a baby bat in 1988.     
The little orphan was being cared for by a neighbour who found she had her hands full and needed help. She and Janet raised the baby together. Since then Janet has reared at least one bat every year and has been involved in raising some 70 in all.
It is tiring work with up to five feeds a day, including 2am, for very young baby flying foxes but it also brings great joy, especially when the baby bats treat you as ‘Mum’.
Above right: Janet with Gollum
Left: Grooming in the sun

 
It is a sad day for the carer when the time comes for the babies, not so little now and possibly causing havoc around the house, to move on to a bat crèche where the youngsters learn to be flying foxes, not humans, before they are released to become proper wild bats and perform their keystone role in our environment.

Right: Baby Martin when only four days of age.
Below: Rebecca taking an after dinner nap.

 
Janet regards a highlight of her bat experiences was a few years ago when she learnt that a bat she had helped raise in 1993 had been found dead on powerlines. Sad, but on board was a baby who had survived the electrocution and was rescued and was doing well.
Janet felt that something she had done and enjoyed doing, had had a lasting positive outcome. Her bat had lived a full life and had probably produced a youngster each year. The next generation was continuing. She said she felt like a proper batty grandma.

Sadly, after moving to a unit, Janet may no longer raise orphan bats. However she still mentors bat carers, if needed, and does occasional bat babysitting. The day at Calga to meet up with the Ed Bats and her colleagues provides a welcome bat ‘fix’.

 
Marjorie Beck and Janet Hutchinson were recorded at The Australian Wildlife Walkabout Park at Calga for A Question of Balance by Paul McQueen and Ruby Vincent. Summary text was prepared by Victor Barry, January 2011. Images were provided by Marjorie Beck (images 1, 3, 4 and 5 ) and Janet Hutchinson (images 2 and 6 to 10). Image 2 is an original drawing by Janet Hutchinson.

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Raising an orphaned baby flying fox Hanging in there - rehabilitating injured flying foxes

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