Going into bat for battling critters

WHEN it comes to saving the koala the expression goes “no tree, no me”, but the slogan could easily be reversed when it comes to flying-foxes, according to WIRES volunteers Louise O’Brien and Pamela Dury, with the often-criticised creatures doing the essential job of spreading tree seeds.

Caring for flying-fox pups abandoned when their mothers are killed is a labour of love for the pair, but as orchardists continue to battle the fruit bats they say destroy their crops, the wildlife carers are appealing for fruit growers to avoid shooting the animals and net their trees instead.

“There needs to be more education for people to realise how important they are, without them our bush is going to be in a  bad way,” Ms O’Brien said.

Ms Dury and Ms O’Brien are caring for two rescued grey-headed flying-fox pups each.

The protected species is considered vulnerable to extinction and with each flying-fox only giving birth to one pup a year, the birth rate is low.

“People perceive them to be in plague proportions, but they’re actually not,” Ms O’Brien said.

“Yes they are a problem for farmers, I can understand that when the orchards are being eaten. Really, netting is the answer, but it’s so horrendously expensive.”

Ms O’Brien said flying foxes were essential for seed dispersal of trees and the risk of contracting lyssavirus was minute, and Hendra could only be contracted via a host such as a horse.

Despite being hated by orchardists, fruit is not the flying foxes’ favourite food, with the bats preferring native pollen and nectar, but forced to take what they can get when their normal food is scarce.

“They don’t want to be here, they’re only here because the eucalypts are flowering,” Ms O’Brien said.

Electrocution on powerlines and being entangled in netting are the two most common causes of death for the flying foxes that leave carers like Ms O’Brien and Ms Dury nursing pups.

They say it is important fruit growers choose wildlife-friendly netting with the smallest holes possible.

“Unfortunately all the ones we’ve had to pick up from this area have had to go back to Sydney because getting vets to treat them is difficult,” Ms O’Brien said.

“Most of the time they have such horrendous injuries they need to go to Sydney.”

clare.colley@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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