Drought causing deaths of flying foxes due to starvation

The grey-headed flying fox is an endangered species. Photo by Ofer Levy
The grey-headed flying fox is an endangered species. Photo by Ofer Levy

Have you seen a flying-fox recently in the daytime in a tree? Or found one dead on the ground?

Large areas of the coast of NSW as well as South East Queensland are experiencing what appears to be a severe flying-fox starvation and dehydration event. It is thought that the unusually dry conditions have affected flowering and fruiting of their usual feed trees. Moisture content on foliage is currently very low; fruit and flowers also lack the normal amount of moisture and this is where bats get their nutrition and hydration.

There are many reports of bats being found alone in trees in the daytime not having the energy to return to roost in their colony.

FAWNA (NSW) Inc is receiving many more than their normal number of flying-fox calls for this time of the year. They, like all wildlife groups on the coast, are stretched to the limit.

Advice on flying foxes

With a limited number of volunteer vaccinated bat rescuers, FAWNA is asking the public to be understanding in this situation and would like to provide some advice should you see a flying-fox alone:

  • Most importantly, please do not attempt to handle the flying-fox. There is no risk to you if you do not handle the bat.
  • Observe the flying-fox and check if it is actually still alive. Many bats are hanging dead in trees - some are dead on the ground. If it is dead, simply scoop it up in a towel or newspaper and dispose of it
  • If it is alive, DO NOT disturb the flying-fox or attempt to shoo it away. This will just stress it further and make it weaker. It needs to rest and regain strength so it can return to the colony.
  • Keep people and pets such as dogs and cats away so they don't stress the already compromised animal.
  • If the bat looks sick or injured, or is low down in a particularly public space, phone FAWNA on 6581 4141. They will help assess the situation and determine whether it needs to be brought into care.
  • If the bat appears uninjured and is moving around wait until the following day and see if the animal flies off overnight. If the bat is still there the following day, phone FAWNA on 65814141 for advice.

If you do want to assist further you can try putting some fruit such as apple or pear in nearby trees, making sure not to go close to the bat. This may in some instances give it the extra nutrition and moisture it needs to survive.

Of course if you find a live bat on a barbed wire fence or entangled in netting please call FAWNA immediately and a rescuer will attend.

October to December are the birthing months. This is when females give birth to a single pup which they carry across their chests as it suckles a teat in the mother's wing pit. This starvation event could cause more females to get into difficulty birthing and more pups to be separated from their mothers. Please call FAWNA if you find a flying-fox pup.

The grey-headed flying fox is a threatened species. Photo by Shane Rumming

The grey-headed flying fox is a threatened species. Photo by Shane Rumming

Flying-foxes are very intelligent creatures and play an important role in Australian environments. They are natural pollinators and seed dispersers and are crucial for the survival and regeneration of our native forests.

Sadly, this starvation event appears to be yet another indication of the catastrophic effect of a changing climate on our ecosystems. Please do what you can to plant native trees and plants so that in the future our wildlife will have food available to them.

If you are keen to make a difference for the wildlife in our area, consider joining FAWNA which operates in MidCoast, Port Macquarie-Hastings and Kempsey shires. For more information about how you can join and contribute call 6581 4141.

FAWNA relies heavily on the generosity of caring people for support. All donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Now is also a great time to join FAWNA and attend the October 6 induction training course in Port Macquarie. For more information go to www.fawna.org.au or call 65814141 to find out how you can help.