Drought conditions have become so bad that flying foxes are finding it difficult to survive in the wild.
In the wake of a press release from wildlife rescue organisation FAWNA about starvation of flying foxes due to drought, people are reporting flying foxes in their front and back yards, either dead on the ground, or staying low in trees. The reports are coming from all over the place - Taree, Lansdowne, Harrington and Old Bar being some of them.
The maternity camp at Wingham Brush is severely depleted, although not many are being found dead on the ground at the Brush - it appears they are flying out in search of food, staying put when they find it, and dying when it's gone.
The unusual behaviour of the animals is due to the drought, and it's not just happening in the Manning Valley. It is also happening northwards towards and in Queensland.
As our apex pollinators, the preferred diet of flying foxes is pollen and nectar, with fruit being eaten when they cannot source blossoms. With no blossom available and not a lot of fruit, flying foxes are exhibiting what is called 'tree guarding', whereby because food is scarce, they are finding trees with fruit and instead of eating from the tree during night time and then returning to roost at their camp, they are staying in the tree and guarding their food supply.
They are being found low down in trees, meaning they are sick or injured, and dead on the ground because they simply are starving to death - they do not have enough energy to fly home to their camp in the morning. Being on or low to the ground means that curious animals, particularly cats and dogs, can come in direct contact with the bats.
The natural instinct for a lot of humans is to try and help them, but health authorities and wildlife rescue organisations are urging people to not approach, or let their pets approach, the animals because of the risk of contracting Lyssavirus.
"Although there have been no recorded cases of the infection in dogs or cats in Australia, it is possible that domestic pets are susceptible to the disease." Phil Kemsley, North Coast Local Land Services district veterinarian said.
Lyssavirus can be contracted by bats, horses and humans. Although the risk to humans is very small, contracting the disease will cause death if left untreated.
"If you find a sick, injured or abandoned flying-fox, contact a licensed wildlife carer organisation or local veterinarian. Members of the public should not handle live bats. Only trained, vaccinated bat handlers should attempt to handle bats." Dr Kemsley added.
Dr Kemsley recommends that if you know or suspect your pet has been in contact with a bat, clean any apparent wounds by washing under running water for five minutes and apply an iodine-based antiseptic.
"After cleaning any wounds, seek veterinary assistance from your local veterinary practitioner without delay for the safety of pets and owners". Said Dr Kemsly.
The same applies for humans, only seek medical attention with a doctor.
In addition, if you are bitten or scratched by a bat, the bat must be killed so a biopsy can be done on its brain to determine whether it carries the virus. This means, instead of helping the bat, you are causing its death.
How you can help starving flying foxes
If you come across a sick flying fox, call rescue organisation FAWNA on their 24 hour number 6581 4141, but remember, do not approach the bat. This will advise you of what to do until they arrive.
You can actively help the flying foxes by supplying them with what are called 'fruit kebabs' - fruit strung on wire to be wrapped or hung on a tree. Suitable fruit are apples, grapes and mangoes. The fruit must be strung at a minimum height of two metres from the ground, otherwise they will be vulnerable.
Fruit kebabs should not be supplied continously otherwise they will become dependant on humans for food. Do it randomly and sporadically.
Even if you do not have a bat residing in a tree, you can still install a fruit kebab so they can find them while searching for food.
There are other stipulations on providing fruit kebabs to flying foxes. For more information on how to create and supply fruit kebabs visit the Bats Qld Facebook page.