Seven 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 seven 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 six 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.
Phoebe is the only one of the seven Grey-headed Flying-foxes who can fly. She is also the biggest, fattest and friendliest 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.
Cooper was found at Cooper’s Creek in North Bega.
He was caught by his wing on barbed wire, and had tried to bite his way out of it. He had injured his mouth, and the wound was filled with maggots. For a week the carer removed the maggots from his mouth twice a day with warm saline.
Cooper still has a bit of his lip missing, but is able to eat well. His wing did not heal well enough for him to be able to fly, but he is happy being one of the family at Potoroo Palace.
Powerful was named after the wildlife carer who rescued him. Her surname was Power.
He was entangled in a net over a fruit tree, because it was not pulled taut. The netting wound so tightly around his wing that it stopped the circulation. Over the next few weeks that part of the wing seemed to die. He could no longer fly properly. He seemed perfectly healthy otherwise.
After three years in the huge flying-fox hospital aviary at Pambula, he one day just fell from the roof to the ground. He suffered something like a stroke and was paralysed all down one side of his body, including his tongue.
At first he could only take a few drops of diluted fruit juice hourly. Over two months the paralysed side of his body slowly recovered. During this time of course he became very spoilt, living in the carer’s bedroom. He now calls out in a very appealing way, hoping for a treat, whenever a person comes into the aviary.
He enjoys his life as part of the group.
Sparky was found on the ground under power lines. He had been electrocuted and had fallen. He was not young, and his recovery was slow. The electrocution had burnt off one of his eyelids, so for six months the carer put cream on his eye several times a day. He then became able to close the eye somehow.
That was fourteen years ago.
He became the elder, the grandfather, who would welcome injured newcomers and who would teach orphans how to behave in the group. He saw most of them release themselves when they could fly. He did not release himself because he could no longer fly because of the injuries from his electrocution.
He has remained the elder, the teacher of the group. He often gives one of the others a swipe with his wing and tells them off. He does not ever hurt them, and they respect his authority. He seems to feel that it is his job to maintain order, with everyone hanging in their right place.
Tarry was found at Tarraganda, hanging in a tree, where neighbours had seen him by himself for several days.
He was so severely dehydrated when he was rescued that his wings were like paper.
He was given subcutaneous fluids and oral fluids and also put in a warm bath with just his head and feet out. He seemed to enjoy that.
For the first year after his rescue, he appeared to have brain damage. He barely reacted to what was happening around him.
Now, although he cannot fly, he has recovered well and is a very active member of the group.