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.