Flying foxes

Unique, beautiful and vital to keeping our environment flourishing. But Australia's iconic flying foxes are at risk — and that means our native landscape is, too.

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They are flying gardeners performing a priceless environmental service.Peter Cundall
ABC's Gardening Australia

Flying foxes are intelligent and remarkable. These unique animals help regenerate our forests and keep ecosystems healthy through pollination and seed dispersal. They are a migratory and nomadic 'keystone' species; meaning a species that many other species of plants and animals rely upon for their survival and wellbeing. Flying foxes, like bees, help drive biodiversity, and faced with the threat of climate change, land clearing, and other human-caused ecological pressures, we need them more than ever.

Flying foxes are bats or, more accurately, mega-bats (big bats). They are commonly known as fruit bats, but their diet is predominately nectar, pollen, and fruit — in that order. They don't use sonar like smaller, insect-eating bats; only their eyes and ears like us. They see as well as a cat at night and are just about as smart.

Flying foxes are foresters keeping the eco-system together. If we are to keep the remnants of our forests healthy, we need the flying foxes. The two are inseparable.Dr Nicki Markus, Chief Conservation Office of Bush Heritage Australia
A flying fox mother cradling her baby close.

Increasingly vulnerable

There are four mainland species of flying fox: Black, Grey headed, Spectacled and Little Red. Tragically, populations of flying foxes across Queensland, NSW and Victoria are in decline. Both the Grey-headed flying fox and Spectacled flying fox have declined by at least 95% in the past century, with massive losses in the past 30 years. Some researchers believe they could be functionally extinct by 2050.

The causes include habitat loss (land clearing), camp disturbance, starvation, increased heat events, legal and illegal shooting, and man-made hazards like power lines, barbed wire and backyard fruit tree netting.

A shot in the dark

Sadly, many flying foxes are shot to keep them from fruit trees — even though there are viable alternatives to doing so. Grey headed and Spectacled flying foxes are the species most regularly shot. They are also listed as Vulnerable to extinction under the federal government's Ecological Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and several state wildlife protection laws.

In spite of the dramatic decline in numbers of both Grey headed and Spectacled flying foxes (the latter of which has only a tiny range in Northern Queensland), both Queensland and NSW state governments continue to issue permits to fruit growers to shoot flying foxes.

In fact, on Threatened Species Day in 2012, Queensland reintroduced the shooting of flying foxes, ending a four year ban.

A tiny golden-furred flying fox baby clings to his mother's side.

Tragically, shooting flying foxes is not only ineffective, but raises severe cruelty issues. Many animals who are shot are only wounded, and slowly die over days from infection and dehydration. The situation is compounded when this is a female with a pup on board. The result is often that she and her baby perish slowly.

Using safe netting around fruit trees is a simple and very effective alternative to shooting, and helps to protect fruit and our precious flying foxes. But not all nets are created equal. Read on to find out why the wrong kind of netting can also be deadly to these important animals, and discover the simple solution to this problem.

The net closes in

Flying foxes live together in large colonies and fly out every night in search of food. Native flowering eucalypts are the natural food source of flying foxes, and these trees will be visited by bats foraging for nectar. Flying foxes are not just feeding during this time, but performing a crucial role of pollinating native forests and spreading seeds to ensure longevity of our bush.

As natural habitat and food sources shrink, many flying fox roosts are becoming surrounded by urban areas and it is here that they encounter one of the biggest threats to their welfare and survival: backyard fruit tree netting. Backyard fruit trees can be a nourishing source of food for bats but venturing into backyards is unfortunately proving deadly.

Backyard fruit tree netting comes in two types: safe and unsafe. Unsafe netting captures and kills thousands of flying foxes each year.

Strangulation and dehydration are common, and this can mean lactating females are left unable to return to their hungry babies back in the colony.

In January 2011 alone, NSW rescuers undertook 411 bat entanglement rescues. In 2010, Brisbane Bat Rescue performed over 700 rescues. Victorian wildlife carers also respond to hundreds of backyard fruit tree entanglements each year. The endless stream of entanglement rescues and rehabilitation work is an huge and unnecessary burden on wildlife volunteers.

There is also a profound issue of animal cruelty. Bats and other entangled wildlife can be trapped in netting, injured for days before anyone notices. Wings are broken and mouths are torn in their efforts to escape. They are frequently found dead.

But you can help end this preventable cruelty. It's easy to tell safe netting from unsafe netting!

Safe netting: You cannot poke your finger through safe netting — the holes are too small. Any netting you CAN'T poke your finger through is safe for flying foxes and other animals.

The good news is that many large netting / hardware retailers are already selling wildlife safe netting — including Fruitsaver, Fruit-sock, Hailguard and Coolaroo.

The bad news is that many other retailers continue to sell netting that is unsafe for wildlife.

Australia needs state-by-state regulations to stop the installation of wildlife-unsafe netting on backyard fruit trees.

There are many advantages to regulating netting use in backyards:

  • Decreasing animal entanglement & death by up to 90 per cent
  • Decreased risk to domestic animals and members of the public from entangled animals
  • Reduced cost to householders in replacing netting from which animals have been cut
  • Decrease in long term costs: wildlife-safe netting is typically stronger and long lasting
  • Substantially decreased workload and risks for volunteer wildlife workers
  • Significant cost reduction for wildlife shelters
  • Decreased trauma to members of the public and wildlife workers, who currently witness the animal cruelty caused by these nets
  • A level playing field for netting retailers

Most commercial fruit growers already net orchards safely and do not shoot flying foxes. However, it would be sensible for state or federal governments to provide netting subsidies to some growers to encourage protection of these vital species.

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What you can do:

Stop the shooting

Queensland and NSW are the only two states that allow the shooting of vulnerable flying fox species. Please email, write or phone the state government representatives below to express your opposition to the shooting of flying foxes.

Queensland

Hon. Dr Stephen Miles MP
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection
Level 13, 400 George Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
GPO Box 2454, Brisbane QLD 4001
(07) 3719 7330
environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au

NSW

Hon. Robert Stokes MP
Minister for the Environment and Minister for Heritage
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001
(02) 8574 6700
office@stokes.minister.nsw.gov.au

Queensland MPs Bob Katter and Shane Knuth also regularly call for the 'culling' of flying foxes. If you live in their electorates you might like to let them know you oppose the shooting of flying foxes.

Mr Shane Knuth, MP
PO Box 1667
Atherton, QLD, 4883
(07) 4091 5861
dalrymple@parliament.qld.gov.au

Hon Bob Katter, MP
PO Box 2130
Mount Isa, Qld 4825
(07) 4743 3534
Bob.Katter.MP@aph.gov.au

Demand safe netting

The vast majority of flying foxes who get entangled in unsafe netting do so in Victoria, NSW and Queensland. Please email or write to the Environment Ministers in these states calling for netting to be regulated so that only wildlife-safe netting can be legally installed over backyard fruit trees.

Victoria

Hon. Lisa Neville MP
Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Water
Level 17, 8 Nicholson Street, East Melbourne, VIC 3002
03 9637 9654
lisa.neville@parliament.vic.gov.au

NSW

Hon. Robyn Parker MP
Minister for Environment and Heritage
PO Box 920 Maitland NSW 2320
(02) 9228 5253
Robyn.Parker@parliament.nsw.gov.au

Queensland

Hon. Dr Stephen Miles MP
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection
Level 13, 400 George Street
Brisbane QLD 4000
GPO Box 2454, Brisbane QLD 4001
(07) 3719 7330
environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au

Wildlife caring

Interested in helping orphaned and injured flying foxes? Click here to find out more about what it's like being a wildlife carer!

Thank you to our member society, Victorian Advocates For Animals, for their assistance in compiling this information.

 
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