By Merlin Tuttle
As one who in 1985 played a lead role in convincing the New South Wales (NSW) Minister for the Environment and Planning, Bob Carr, to provide statewide protection for flying foxes, I am extremely disappointed to see such progress reversed decades later by a predecessor. Grey-headed flying foxes are essential pollinators and seed dispersers upon which many of Australia’s unique plants and animals rely.
Nevertheless, their numbers have declined dramatically over the past hundred years. They first were massively exterminated by fruit growers, because during periodic droughts, when forests failed to flower, starving bats would invade orchards. Thanks to excellent research, orchards can now be protected. However, the bats’ traditional roosting habitats often have been overrun by urbanization. Once again these bats are in trouble, often with few options remaining. In small numbers, they may be enjoyed. But during unpredictable spikes in gum tree flowering, these sophisticated commuters can be attracted long distances. When bats weighing up to two pounds and having wingspans of more than three feet suddenly increase by as much as 10-fold, noise and odor can become a serious problem.
Excellent means of protecting fruit orchards have been developed, but urban nuisances have not yet been studied sufficiently to find viable solutions. As flying fox experts, Justin Welbergen and Peggy Eby recently explained in their insightful article, Not in my backyard? How to live alongside flying foxes in urban Australia, grey-headed flying foxes can travel thousands of kilometers in a single year and quickly respond to changing conditions far beyond the boundaries of any one state. To resolve nuisances without loss of essential services, we must learn much more about what attracts them to specific roosts and how best to provide suitable alternatives when their choices create nuisances.
Currently relied upon harassment methods are squandering millions of dollars, simply chasing bats from yard to yard and community to community, almost never achieving long-term solutions. There is a long history of politically motivated actions that win elections by simply moving problems.
The recent situation in Batemans Bay, NWS is a prime example of how far wrong locally led actions can go. Due to last year’s unusually prolific gum tree bloom in the area, tens of thousands of grey-headed flying foxes have been attracted, possibly as much as 20 percent of the continent’s remaining population. And residents are understandably upset by all the noise and droppings.
In an apparently politically motivated move, the Australian Commonwealth, the only entity truly capable of addressing a highly mobile problem that moves back and forth across state lines, has delegated authority to the states, who in turn have delegated responsibility to local city councils.
Both the Commonwealth and state governments have officially listed grey-headed flying foxes as Threatened Species, vulnerable to extinction. Thus these bats are protected under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act of 1999, and the New South Wales Threatened Species Conservation Act of 1995. Nevertheless, NWS Prime Minister Mike Baird has authorized expenditure of 2.5 million dollars to support the local city council in taking actions that the country’s leading experts warn will only create new problems harmful to all concerned.
These actions set a terrible precedent, that if carried out, could threaten the future of wildlife conservation across the continent.
Take action on behalf of bats!
Australia’s flying foxes are currently threatened by an extreme food shortage and need help. As survivors increasingly are forced to seek refuge in urban areas, there are pending proposals to permit increased harassment and killing.
Please support the Australian Bat Society in its efforts to prevent needless harm to flying foxes that are already in alarming decline by contacting,
- The Honorable Josh Frydensberg at firstname.lastname@example.org, and
- The Honorable Steven Miles, Minister for The Environment and Heritage Protection at email@example.com,
and stressing the following points using your own words or use the following text.
I strongly support the science-based recommendations of the Australasian Bat Society as submitted to the Parliamentary inquiry into flying fox management in the eastern states of Australia.
They found no evidence to support a downlisting of grey-headed flying foxes from Vulnerable status, and a 50-60% decline of spectacled flying foxes from 2012-2015 warrants its listing as Endangered. Given the long-distance movements of flying foxes, a national management plan is urgently needed. Colony harassment to resolve nuisance issues in urban areas has proven costly and ineffective, and orchardist problems are best resolved with protective netting, as is already subsidized by the State in New South Wales. Flying foxes play key roles in forest health. Their loss threatens whole ecosystems of Australia’s unique wildlife whose decline greatly diminishes the continent’s strongly nature-oriented tourism.