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How are our politically problematic flying foxes faring?


 
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Nick Edards, from Batwatch, looks at the state of play for flying foxes. Grey-headed flying-foxes in NSW were spared the sort of mass mortality heat stress events that they suffered last year although those in Queensland and South Australia were hit hard and thousands of animals are reported to have died there. In NSW, there has been enough native food for the colonies and the condition of bats coming into care has been much better.
Flying foxes are still, however, the subject of politics and there are a lot more dispersals being approved. Because bats live in colonies, roosting numbers are in the tens of thousands (and sometimes hundreds of thousands) and if these areas are close to humans there is often conflict.
The flying fox colony at Gordon seems to have swelled after the dispersal of the colony from Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. Vegetation close to houses, used for roosting, has been removed, creating buffer zones between residents and the colony.

 
The colony from the Botanic Gardens was successfully dispersed, with many of the displaced animals roosting in Centennial Park. Although this location was originally not deemed suitable either, the trust that looks after the park has, so far, taken no action to use the management technique of dispersal.
Queensland has vast mixed colonies of grey-headed, black and little red flying foxes in urban and peri-urban areas. Local councils are now applying to have multiple colonies dispersed.

 
The new Liberal state government is more willing to approve such dispersals, allowing councils more say over their management.
One of the continuing problems for bats is their feeding on orchards and while this may be related to the availability of native food, bats are also very mobile creatures and can fly long distances. New South Wales encourages orchard famers in the Sydney region to apply for subsidies to have their orchards protected by netting but the poor returns to farmers over the past few years has meant that few have had the money to fund such protection.

 
There is, however, still a push by the state government to move away from shooting the flying foxes, a practice which is not yet banned in that state. The politics of flying foxes becomes stark when you look at Queensland. There, the state had banned shooting because the flying foxes were not killed humanely under state environmental regulations. The new Queensland Liberal state government has overturned that regulation, removing the humane aspect explicitly only for flying foxes and issuing shooting licences for orchards.

 
The problem with shooting fast moving flying creatures is that they are usually only wounded so the animals are left to die an unpleasant, lingering death.
Baby bats who accompany their mothers when very young, are left to a similar fate or simply die of starvation, as do older baby flying foxes left back at the camps as they are nutritionally dependent on their mothers.
Another problem with shooting is that some species of flying foxes (grey-headed flying fox, spectacled flying fox) are actually listed as threatened species.

 
The new Liberal state government in NSW promised to end the practice of shooting by June 2014 and with a new environment minister in Rob Stokes with a strong environmental background, Nick Edards has hope for a commitment to end shooting as a crop protection measure in the Sydney region.
Will Rob Stokes pass that test with flying colours?

Nick Edards was interviewed for A Question of Balance by Ruby Vincent. Images from Nick Edards and Nancy Pallin, Summary text by Victor Barry, May 2014.

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