Far South Coast bat plague better left alone

The following article appeared in the Merimbula News Weekly on May 6th 2016 by Melanie Leach.

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Alexandra Seddon, founder of Potoroo Palace Wildlife Sanctuary at Yellowpinch, gets up close and personal with a grey-headed flying fox.

Batemans Bay is going batty and residents are calling for the relocation of the 120,000-strong colony of grey-headed flying foxes that have settled in their town, but Alexandra Seddon of Potoroo Palace Wildlife Sanctuary says this will be of no use.

Around 15 years ago, Ms Seddon bought a property in Bald Hills in an attempt to be close to and protect the Pambula flying fox camp that covers about 14 hectares.

The area can quickly fill up with the small mammals as they fly up and down the east coast in search of food, mainly flowering eucalypts and rain forest fruits.

Throughout most of March and until around mid April around 100,000 flying foxes – about a quarter of the world’s flying fox population –  were living on and adjacent to Ms Seddon’s property.

While they have moved on for now, Ms Seddon said the only humane way to get rid of a flying fox colony is to simply wait for the animals to leave of their own accord.

“Asking me if I would support humans relocating flying foxes is asking me if I condone torture,” Ms Seddon said.

“Because our relocation methods really are torturing the poor things. We are saying they can’t be here but there is no where for them to go.”

Ms Seddon said the main ways the bats are relocated was through scaring them with smoke, noise, bright lights or spraying them with water.

“The problem is, once they are relocated, there is no way on knowing whether they will come back or not. They could be scaring and torturing the creatures and it may not work.

“It’s best to just leave them as the problems they cause for people are generally short-lived as they move on in every one to two months as they search of new sources of nectar and fruit.”

Aside from the large Batemans Bay colony, flying foxes are also very common in Pambula where there is a camp flying foxes have been frequenting for hundreds of years and more recently they have started roosting in Bega.

While some people claim the flying foxes are hard to live with, Ms Seddon said the animals are highly intelligent and essential to the Australian eco-system.

“It would cost billions of dollars to do the work they do with regards to seed dispersal and pollination of eucalyptus and rain forest species.”

Having loved grey-headed flying foxes for many years, Ms Seddon said she hopes people don’t take the bat problem into their own hands.

“It’s rare for them to stay in one place for a very long time, they are beautiful, intelligent creatures and it seems like they are better at living with humans than humans are living with them.”

FOR FOX SAKE

flossyThere is an astonishingly spectacular wildlife event happening on our very doorsteps – and it’s there for all to behold.

In late March this year approximately an incredible 80,000 grey headed flying-foxes were recorded camping at a very old, well established site in Pambula. Numbers were recorded by an experienced local resident who has been surveying and monitoring their fluctuating numbers for many years now. It was an extraordinary number as there are currently only 400,000 left of this species left worldwide.

The Pambula Camp came very close to destruction in 2001 when it almost became a new housing development but was saved by this same passionate local who recognized the value and significance of the site to native wildlife and was able to purchase most of the land the camp encompasses.

It is no coincidence that these heightened numbers correlate with the flowering of the bloodwood trees (corymbia gummifera) in this region. The Pambula Camp provides a sanctuary for the animals to rest during the day until they need to go searching for flowering gums and rainforest fruits – their preferred diet. Orchards will provide little interest when their true food supply Picture flying fox 008 (2)in the forests is plentiful. The introduced fruits from the northern hemisphere make a poor substitute but must suffice when there are hungry mouths in search of nourishment. It is well established that declining numbers are in part due to starvation brought on by our disappearing forests.

A local group of dedicated volunteers (always needing more), counts on the third Friday of every month at the Glebe in Bega, where there is another camp more recently established within the last 10 years. Although a newer campsite for the grey headed flying-fox, the camp can still get large numbers. The largest recording for this site was still only 30,000 back in 2012. Results contribute towards the government’s National Flying-fox Monitoring Program.

For more information or to take part in surveys, contact Lea Pinker at Potoroo Palace 6494 9053

Koala Rescue

It was a busy and exciting month of September for staff. Several different native wild animals were rescued and taken there for care.

One of the most remarkable of these rescues was a young male koala, affectionately named “Woollybutt” since this was one of his favourite species of eucalypt to munch on.

He was found in August sitting in the middle of the road near Wapengo and put into a covered basket while not wanting to move, by his rescuer. This is the best way to assist a koala as it provides support on all sides of the body. He was taken to Potoroo Palace the next day, still sitting in his basket and still seemingly stunned.

Staff had prepared for him a warm, safe enclosure with a tall tree stump and he was carefully checked over again for signs of injury (having already been examined by a vet). The basket was gently tipped towards the stump and to staff’s amazement he crawled out and climbed it, nestling himself comfortably in a fork.

For the next few days he took supplement from a syringe and ate quantities of specially selected eucalyptus leaves. It was a rare privilege for staff to participate in such a heart-warming experience and to be directly contributing to the broader community effort of conserving this local koala population.

“Woollybutt” was dazed and confused  upon arrival but as the days went by he began to make it quite clear that his Potoroo Palace Retreat was coming to an end and he told staff quite plainly that he was ready to go home! This was a little sooner than anticipated and not everyone could be there for his release as planned. The staff who did witness his release were deeply touched to see him return to the wild. He is the first wild koala since 2001to be released in this area and it was a very special moment.

Phoebe’s story

Phoebe is the only one of the nine Grey-headed Flying Foxes who can fly. She is also the biggest and fattest of them!

She was found as an orphan by a boy in the grounds of Quaama Public School. That year many adult Flying Foxes were being brought into care suffering from starvation because of the clearing of their food trees (rain forest species and flowering gums) and drought. She was very underweight for her age and may not have been getting enough milk from her mother to give her the strength to hang on to her mother’s body as the latter flew out to forage.

Phoebe was fostered by a first-time carer who decided not to use a dummy; instead the carer liked to have Phoebe clinging to her hair. All flying-fox orphans need to have a dummy otherwise they think they are going to fall; wild babies hold onto their mothers for the first five weeks by grasping the nipple in their mouths and holding onto her body with their claws. The mother flies out each evening to search for food with the baby clinging to her stomach. At six weeks old, the babies are left behind in the camp together in a crèche for the night; at dawn the mothers come back and the babies can feed from them. At thirteen weeks old the babies begin to fly and can accompany the adults (for short distances at first) when they fly out at dusk.

The carers of Flying Fox orphans try to mimic the wild situation by putting the orphans into a creche together at thirteen weeks old. Usually one or two older males are put with them to teach them rules of Flying Fox behaviour. The creche is always fairly close to an existing Flying Fox camp.
At night the release door of the creche aviary is left open so that the young ones can come and go at will and learn to fly out with the adults.

Phoebe was soft released in this way, but while her peers came and went and eventually remained with the colony, Phoebe always returned at night to be fed in the creche aviary. She was happy to socialise all day with hundreds of wild Flying Foxes, but came back at night to be fed by humans.
If she were pushed out into the wild, she would fly straight to the first person she saw. And she has never learned to forage for herself.

Flying Foxes

Nine Grey-headed Flying Foxes now live at Potoroo Palace. They came from the Pambula Conservation Area, known as Batty Towers. Over the years, many injured and orphaned Flying Foxes have come to the hospital aviary there. Many have recovered and been released back into the colony which camps there between February and May in years when there is a mass flowering of bloodwoods.

The nine who have come to Potoroo Palace are ones who have repeatedly been offered the opportunity of leaving to join the wild Flying Foxes via the release door of the aviary, which is opened at dusk each night while the colony is in residence at Pambula, and closed at dawn. They have chosen not to go. In eight cases this is because their injuries from barbed wire, loose netting over fruit trees, or electrocution have been too severe for them to heal enough to enable them to fly again. In one case it is because an orphan, Phoebe, was inappropriately reared by a well-meaning, but inexperienced, carer and was unable to wean herself from humans.

When visitors come to look at the Flying Foxes, the Flying Foxes stare back at them. They have very pretty furry faces and bright eyes. It is easy to see how intelligent they are. They are interested in everything that is going on around them. It is as if they need to get to know each new person. They play with the keepers who come into their aviary, and take banana pieces very delicately so as not to bite them. Sometimes they stretch out a wing and hold onto the keeper’s hand with their thumb hook.

They have a lot of family arguments, but they never hurt each other.