Flying-Foxes in Trouble MidCoast NSW into Queensland

FAWNA Report by Meredith Ryan, President

Firstly welcome to 2 new Wingham resident members, Paul Hoskinson and Helen Kvelde, who have joined the flying-fox rescue and care team.  It is fantastic to have two new vaccinated First Responders particularly in this season which is shaping up as dire for our flying-fox populations.

From 1 July until 2 October, FAWNA has responded to 141 flying-fox incidents with pretty ordinary results.  As a result of the severest drought to hit the Mid North Coast in decades there are severe food shortages and it is believed many of the pregnant females have aborted their young due to malnutrition.  Flying-foxes are being seen camping overnight away from their usual large communal camps – found in small groups or alone near a food source whether it be flowering eucalypts, callistemon and the like, or fruit ripening on backyard fruit trees.  This is bringing them closer to people, to barbed wire fences and entanglements which can be really tricky if one is to leave the fence intact and not cause further harm to these animals.  The sub adult Black Flying-fox pictured is in rehabilitation being treated for wing membrane damage.

Some rescuers have witnessed flying-foxes on the ground eating windfall lemons.  Citrus fruit are not normally on a flying-fox’s chosen menu.  Pictured here is a flying-fox on the ground near Clybucca eating a hybrid citrus fruit, the tangelo.  This food shortage appears to start in the FAWNA area and continue up the coast and into Queensland.

We are fearful that this will be a repeat of the dreadful season 2016/2017 when a few starvation months late in 2016 were followed by Heat Stress events early in 2017, decimating the area’s normal flying-fox populations.  Back then we vowed that FAWNA would attempt to put measures in place that we would be able in some way to provide some help to animals during heat stress times when the temperature is forecast to climb over 41°C and action needs to be taken to prevent mass deaths from heat stress.  FAWNA’s biggest problem is the lack of rescue responders who are rabies-vaccinated against the Australian Bat Lyssavirus ABL.  It is a tough ask to expect members to fund the >$350 for a course of 3 pre-exposure rabies vaccinations.  FAWNA individually, and via the NSW Wildlife Council has been active in attempting to secure some government assistance in reducing the cost to volunteers; without success so far.   It seems wrong that a member of the public who gets bitten or scratched by a flying-fox or bat can get a free course of Rabies vaccinations, funded by the Government, but we as First Responders, there to help save threatened species animals and respond to prevent members of the public being put in danger of getting scratched by an animal in trouble, have to pay the full price.

FAWNA has done some positive things to get ready for whatever the drought and heat stress might throw at our flying-fox populations and us as responders.  Last month we took delivery of a 1000 litre firefighting trailer registered and ready to give us a misting capability in accessible camps.  We recognise this is one trailer, and we have many camps in the FAWNA area likely to “come down” on any given day when temperatures exceed 42°C.  It is a start.  We have also bought 12 x 5 litre water sprayers and 12 x 2 litre sprayers that can be used in a flying-fox camp heat stress event.  Our major shortfall will be the people-power availability to respond.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service Saving Our Species Flying-fox Team has convened a meeting of experienced people from the wildlife and NGO fields and from local, state and federal government and the scientific community, to kick start deliberations about what the appropriate responses might be to intervene to address heat stress in flying-fox camps.  I will be representing both FAWNA and the NSW Wildlife Council at that meeting on 14 October.  The aim is:  “…to find principles of heat-stress intervention on which we can agree, and use these principles to design appropriate site-based intervention for effective evidence-based management of the issue”.

Everyone involved in any way with flying-fox rescue this year has had a tough time, and FAWNA thanks you for your willingness to drop everything and go, travel long distances without demur to deal with these animals, none of which are in the pink of health, and many of whom have very poor outcomes.  The Phone Operators have been terrific too – thank you all for your contribution.

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