By Tiere Thorpe (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Volunteer – Flying Fox rescuer and rehabilitator
The Casino Heat Stress Event – November 2014
Q. How many bats are you currently looking after?
Q. How do you look after pups in your care?
Flying fox pups that come into our care are usually hypothermic / hyperthermia, often have a maggot load, some abrasions and are emotionally traumatised. Many babies have witnessed their mum’s terrifying and often tragic struggle to survive whether it is from entanglement, power line electrical current or hyperthermia from extreme weather events. The first couple of hours in our care is vital and needs to be handled correctly to stabilise the pup and set it on the road to recovery and ultimately release. Hydration is a key aspect to our initial and ongoing care, as is setting up a routine with consistent foster parents. Flying foxes are not lactose intolerant like many mammals. We feed them full cream cow’s milk with added calcium and glucose supplements.
At around 6 weeks of age, we introduce fruit to increase the pup’s carbohydrate intake, assist in their growth and to provide enrichment to these smart little guys. Always trying to imitate nature, this is offered late in afternoon and evening to encourage nocturnal behaviour. It would be next to impossible to provide them with a natural diet of nectar, pollen and native fruits. Apples and pears are a mainstay for the pups with the occasional melon and grapes added in for variety. Unfortunately this predominately fruit diet takes up a large proportion of our donations. Australian flying foxes have a largely liquid diet and they have evolved to pulp the fruit between their tongue and rigid palate, extract the juice and discarding the fruit pulp. Aside from addressing the never ending appetite of our little charges, we must clean and sun our pups everyday as mum would in the wild. All this is done in a nurturing bond that forms between the foster parent and the pup. Just like human children, without love these little ones fail to thrive.
A busy 12 weeks will pass quickly and our pups will be weaned off milk and onto fruit and ready for the next stage of rehabilitation – crèche. This is where we provide the right environment amongst other flying foxes minus our emotional involvement. Hopefully by this stage our pups are becoming emotional independent and confident. They will spend a few weeks with other like-minded, self assured pups as human contact begins to withdraw and their innate behaviours emerge – washing and toileting themselves, socialising and nocturnal food seeking behaviours. This is the time when our volunteers work extremely hard, chopping copious amounts of fruit to fill little growing bellies (up to 400g per night per bat).
Q. What are the chances of young orphaned bats survival once they are released?
M.L Augee and Denise Ford (1999) Radio-tracking Studies of Grey-headed Flying-foxes, Pteropus poliocephalus, from the Gordon Colony, Sydney.
Q. Apart from the current heat wave what other challenges do bats in Australia face?
There are many factors forcing our flying foxes to become increasingly urbanised, placing them in zones of conflict and terror as they attempt to co-exist with humans.
Evidence makes it very clear that our flying foxes preferred diet is myrtaceae flowers and forest fruit. However, with the increasing clearing of native vegetation and the replacement with commercial crops, we now see increased conflict between farmers and flying foxes. Despite the fact that our flying foxes provide an amazing free ecosystem service, recent political and legal changes (2012) have reduced protection for these vulnerable species. The Queensland and NSW Governments have reintroduced shooting permits allowing orchardist to inhumanly cull these animals.
Habitat clearance also has another effect – it increases the distance between native food sources and hems in flying fox populations, forcing them to look for other food sources locally. We have seen this recently in Sydney, just before spring flowering. We had many rescued flying foxes suffering from starvation, especially pregnant females, juveniles and the elderly who have lower fat reserves and the inability to fly greater distances.
Local governments also have power to disperse flying fox colonies and destroy their roost sites without assessment or accountability. These regular dispersals are undertaken using sound, smoke, helicopters and any stress-inducing method to unsettle the flying foxes from their habitat trees. The dispersal procedure is ongoing and expensive and despite research showing it is an unsuccessful short or long term control mechanism – sadly it is still used!
Q. How can members of the public help with the current tragedy?
Donations are always very welcome. Sydney Wildlife does not receive any funding from the government. We rely solely on donations from members of the public and the generosity of our wildlife volunteers who are all unpaid. Our flying fox rehabilitation is a costly process, requiring an ongoing commitment from a small but dedicated group of bat carers within the organisation. The current Heat Stress victims from Casino have many injuries including ongoing hydration issues, organ damage, skin abrasions, eye ulcers and wing membrane damage. Any financial assistance given to the flying foxes always goes straight to their daily care and medical expenses.
We are able to take heat stress donations via the Tolga bat hospital
We are also listed on the Global Giving website (globalgiving.org ‘Help Baby Bats Take Flight’) where there is a regular update for those who donate and become part of our commitment to help this vulnerable species.
Be a flying fox advocate – educate members of the public about the importance of flying foxes as keystone species: no other animal does their job; in fact the survival of many animals relies on flying foxes to do their job each night. They are long range pollinators and seed disperser of many Australian coastal trees and these gentle night workers are absolutely essential to the health of our ecosystems and forests (as well as being incredibly cute and smart J). At the current rate of die-offs, we may sadly witness this species becoming functionally extinct in our generation. Functional extinction always precedes actual extinction.