Flying-foxes in decline — we’re taking action!

Grey-headed flying-fox

Grey-headed flying-fox

28 September 2017

Wildlife Queensland can now confirm that flying-fox populations are in decline, and a policy for the protection and conservation of Queensland’s mainland flying-fox species (spectacled flying-fox, black flying-fox, grey-headed flying-fox, and little red flying-fox) is being developed.

This policy, currently under consideration for endorsement by Wildlife Queensland’s State Council, will underpin future action and is a key step in a campaign to enhance the protection and conservation of these native species.

In the interim, letters outlining the policy’s major aims have been forwarded to all major political parties seeking their views on specific issues so as to confirm our understanding of their attitudes on these matters and better inform our supporters.

Certain political parties have already indicated that there is a need to cull flying-foxes. Unfortunately, these parties have a false sense of security regarding the abundance of flying-foxes throughout Queensland as these animals flock together in such large numbers, creating the illusion that their populations are far healthier than they in fact are. The spectacled flying-fox, for example, has declined by 75 per cent in the last 15 years (1) and is now listed as Vulnerable under both the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) (2) and the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA) (3).

Peter Cundall, former host of ABC’s Gardening Australia, once described flying-foxes as “flying gardeners performing a priceless environmental service” (4).


Flying-foxes are essential for various ecosystems due to their role as seed dispersers and flower pollinators (5). The importance of flying-foxes is significant as they are major pollinators, similar to bees. Should bees succumb to disease — a distinct possibility — the role of flying-foxes in maintaining a healthy environment for this planet would be more important than ever (6).

However, this role may be short-lived. Flying-fox populations are struggling due to many threats including climate change (7), anthropogenic influences and the low fecundity (reproduction rate) of the species (8), resulting in dwindling populations.

Climate change is a major threat to flying-fox populations as increasing temperatures result in mass mortalities (7) as seen throughout New South Wales and Victoria. Anthropogenic influences abound and include Damage Mitigation Permits (DMPs), political uncertainty and the possibility of culling — legal or illegal. Issued by the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection under the NCA, DMPs allow commercial horticulturalists to kill flying-foxes that forage on their fruit (9).

Wildlife Queensland is lobbying to ban DMPs as there are alternative ways to deter flying-foxes from orchards, such as planting their natural food source and using appropriate exclusive netting over trees. Wildlife Queensland is of the view that there is no need for lethal action against protected species such as flying-foxes in the horticultural industry as the great majority of growers use alternative methods.

With political uncertainty, depending on the outcome of the upcoming elections and the knowledge that some parties may opt to cull flying-foxes, it is essential to initiate action so as to have in place the best possible outcome for these much-maligned animals.

Wildlife Queensland also believes it is important to improve coexistence between the community and flying-foxes as this will undoubtedly reduce the demand for action against these vulnerable species. Community and flying-fox cohesion will help conservation efforts protect flying-foxes as well as improve the way the community deals with and perceives them.

Some of the actions Wildlife Queensland is advocating for in its policy include:

  • Prohibiting the issuance of Queensland’s DMPs for flying-foxes under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 (NCA)
  • Amending section 88C (6B) in the NCA to qualify the example of ‘smoke’ to ensure non-lethal use of smoke, and to delete the examples of: ‘electric current’, ‘chemicals’
  • Continuing funding for approved current research being undertaken by CSIRO and other organisations
  • Exploring the opportunity for partnerships between DEHP, Wildlife Queensland and other like-minded organisations to collaborate in the monitoring of flying-fox abundance.
  • Encouraging studies to develop the best management techniques with regard to efficiency and cost-effectiveness practices of animal welfare and population protection.
  • Using alternative management techniques for crop protection to reduce the reliance of commercial growers on DMPs and the possibility of illegal culling, for example:
    • Subsidising start-up costs of alternative management techniques on private land
    • Using appropriate flying-fox crop exclusion netting for commercial growers
    • Reducing netting holes to be smaller than a finger-width
    • Regulating and maintaining nets to ensure minimal entanglements
  • Improving education and understanding of flying-foxes throughout the community.
  • Encouraging strategies to communicate the reality of the health. risks associated with flying-foxes.
  • Developing strategies for adequate transmission of research to the public sector.

But we need your support! As a member of the community, you can help these keystone species by:

  • Raising awareness of the population decline of the species and reporting all injured flying-foxes to the relevant authorities and/or an approved wildlife carer.
  • Raising your concerns with existing politicians and election candidates to ban the issuance of DMPs.
  • Improving your knowledge and understanding of the species and their importance — why not take one of our Batty Boat Cruises?
  • Ensuring appropriate netting over backyard fruit trees to avoid entanglement of flying-foxes.

Do you know your flying-foxes? Though they look quite similar, our four mainland flying-fox species have different characteristics and distributions:

The little red flying-fox is a highly nomadic species distributed throughout northern and eastern Australia. This species moves seasonally due to its nearly exclusive nectarivorous diet, roosting in the millions.

The black flying-fox sticks to coastal and near-coastal parts of northern and eastern Australia. However, this species has started to become accustomed to urban environments due to them having a greater source of food. As such, you are likely to see this adorable species on Wildlife Queensland’s Batty Boat Cruise.

The grey-headed flying-fox is endemic to Australia and is usually found along the south-eastern coast. This species is also listed as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act as they have declined by 25 percent in last 15 years.

The small population of the spectacled flying-fox is distributed throughout the tropical rainforests along north-eastern Queensland and can handle high humidity much better than the other species.

Visit the flying-foxes web page for more information on each species.


[1] D Westcott 2017, pers. comm., 5 September

[2] Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 <>

[3] Nature Conservation Act 1992 <>

[4] Cundall P 2007, Gardening Australia, ABC Network

[5] Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) 2016, Importance of flying-foxes, viewed 22/08/17 <>

[6] Animals Australia n.d., Flying foxes, viewed 27/09/2017, <>

[7] Welbergen, A Klose, M Markus, N & Eby, P 2008 ‘Climate change and the effects of temperature extremes on Australian flying-foxes’, Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, vol. 275, pp419-425

[8] NSW Wildlife Council, Flying-foxes, viewed 27/09/2017 <>

[9] Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (DEHP) 2017, Damage Mitigation Permits for Crop Protection, viewed 8 August 2017,  <>


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