Flying foxes or mega-bats are in urgent need of a refreshed image in the eyes of the broader community. The four species – black, grey-headed, spectacled, and little red – occur in Queensland, though unfortunately, it appears populations are in decline. In the last century, the grey-headed and spectacled flying foxes have declined significantly, with massive losses in the last 30-odd years.
Major threats to the flying foxes include habitat loss, camp site disturbance, legal and illegal shooting as well as accidental death from inappropriate fruit tree netting, barb-wire fences and power lines. Flying foxes live together in large colonies and leave those roosts in the evening to search for food. With the ever-increasing loss of natural habitat many roosts are becoming surrounded by urban areas and adverse encounters with humans are on the rise.
It is acknowledged that camps generate odours and, at times, noise. Also there is no denying that flying foxes are associated with some diseases that affect horses in particular. As a result, the broader community tends not to demonstrate the appropriate level of care for these animals and the need for their protection. Clearly, the vital role flying foxes play in maintaining our planet is not appreciated widely enough.
There is no doubt, without flying foxes, the world as we know it would be different. These remarkable animals help regenerate our forests and keep various ecosystems in a healthy condition through seed dispersal and pollination. As Peter Cundall, formerly of ABC’s Gardening Australia, stated, “They are flying gardeners performing a priceless environmental service.”
High mobility also makes flying foxes very effective forest pollinators. This reinforces the gene pool and health of native forests which provide valuable timber, act as carbon sinks, stabilise river systems and water catchments, and provide recreational and tourism opportunities worth millions of dollars each year.
Prior to the last election the Labor Party committed to banning damage mitigation permits (dmps) for flying foxes to enhance their welfare in roost/camp disturbance and to protect fruit orchards. However, little action – if any – has occurred.
In 2015-16 the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection approved 16 lethal dmps for flying foxes at commercial fruit farms. Only one-third of the annual quota was allocated and returns showed 473 animals killed. From Wildlife Queensland’s perspective the death of one flying fox through a dmp is one too many, as there are well-established practices for protecting a fruit crop.
The Commonwealth government recently released a draft recovery plan for the grey-headed flying fox. Key purposes of the plan include facilitation of a positive increase in the national population trend, identification and enhanced management of secure foraging and roosting habitat, and improvement of the community’s capacity to coexist with flying foxes.
From its acknowledgments, it is apparent that the draft plan is based on input from several experts in the field. The threats to the survival of the species are comprehensively and adequately outlined, and the recovery objectives, performance criteria and actions are focussed, well-defined and logical. Wildlife Queensland is of a view that should these all be delivered, the recovery plan will have achieved its eight objectives.
However, without question, implementing the objectives will require significant resources. While there are some obligations on various jurisdictions and possible fund sources suggested, Wildlife Queensland has grave doubts that the resources required to adequately deliver the objectives within the suggested time-frames will be available.
Under these circumstances, Wildlife Queensland has indicated that the eight objectives and actions within each objective need to be prioritised so as to progress the delivery of the plan. In addition there needs to be an indication of the agency, department or institute to be responsible for implementing the various objectives and actions, some of which will require cooperation and shared responsibility. A table listing the objectives and actions together with the party responsible for delivery as an attachment or appendix to the existing draft would have merit. Such an exercise would also highlight those actions where no champion is defined. Without delineating the responsible party and to where the limited resources available should be directed, this recovery plan for the grey-headed flying fox will be but another recovery plan for a threatened species that gathers dust on a shelf somewhere.
One final concern is the recommended time-frame for review. Wildlife Queensland considers the performance of the recovery plan should be reviewed after three years of operation rather than five to assess the efficacy of the strategies being applied. Should any action be found lacking at that stage, there would still be time to address the situation and make the required changes.
From Wildlife Queensland’s perspective, the current critical issues for flying foxes are accurate estimates of the population so the correct conservation status of the species can be determined, location and protection of foraging and roost sites, and fostering coexistence with the broader community.
So what are we going to do?
Wildlife Queensland will lobby the Queensland Government to cease the practice of issuing damage mitigation permits for the control of flying foxes under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 in the horticultural industry.
But in order to be successful we need your help!
To express your concern – and strengthen ours – please write to:
Hon. Dr Steven Miles MP
Minister for Environment and Heritage Protection, Minister for National Parks and the Great Barrier Reef
GPO Box 2454
BRISBANE QLD 4001
By email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Wildlife Queensland will also be closely monitoring the action – or lack of it – arising from the draft recovery plan. If the objectives and actions actually materialise, positive steps in effecting a positive collective attitude change towards flying foxes will occur.