WIRES steps up to save babies of threatened flying foxes

A starving five-week-old flying fox pup rescued at Bronte in Sydney last week.
A starving five-week-old flying fox pup rescued at Bronte in Sydney last week.

Hawkesbury WIRES has received 10 rescue calls this month to rescue starving grey-headed flying foxes, a problem afflicting the bats up and down coastal NSW at the moment.

Two flying foxes caught in fruit tree netting at The Slopes at Kurrajong in the last few days was the most recent incident. 

WIRES’ Vickii Lett said when they’re starving the mothers abandon their babies as they stop lactating and can’t feed them. Also large roosting colonies break up into smaller camps spread around the area as they don’t have the strength to travel long distances each day.

“They normally feed on native flowers and only go to orchard trees out of desperation,” she said. Fruit isn’t the best food for them, as the pollen in the flowers they feed off has protein in it which the fruit doesn’t.

“They’re a keystone species  in that they are very efficient pollinators for a number of species of trees.” She said falling flying fox numbers affect our forests as a result. 

She said it’s not really known what’s causing the starvation other than unusual weather patterns which affect the blooming of trees they feed on. That, and the continual clearing of land with the best soil which used to produce the healthiest, best-flowering trees.

They are already a threatened species. “If we don’t do something to assist them they’ll become functionally extinct.”

She said restoration of habitat would help them, and property owners can help where they’ve got fruit trees next to barbed wire fences, by putting polypipe on the top strand of the fence to stop the bats getting tangled on it. Thicker gauge netting on trees also helps them untangle themselves.

Planting eucalypt species they like can also help – they particularly love swamp mahogany and ‘snow in summer’ – a ti tree. Council’s Marty Gauci can help with other species that bats love.

If you have a tangled bat at your place, don’t approach it yourself. f you see a bat on the ground, adult or pup, please do not touch it.

“Although less than one per cent  carry lyssa virus, there is always a risk,” WIRES CEO Leanne Taylor said.

“Simply place a towel or box over it and call WIRES immediately for help on 1300 094 737 or the WIRES Flying Fox only Emergency hotline 0405 724 635.”

She said the Hawkesbury’s 10 calls about starving bats were amongst the 550 flying foxes rescued since November 1, with the majority being pups. Most rescued are approximately 4 - 6 weeks old and would normally remain with their mothers until at least six months old. If you get bitten or scratched it is important to get medical help.