The Queensland Government proposes to allow local
authorities to move on flying fox camps without applying for damage mitigation permits. The Environment and Heritage Protection Minister Hon Andrew Powell M.P. said it was in line with the Newman Government’s war on ‘green tape’. In designated urban areas, councils will be given ‘as of right’ authority to make their own decisions to disperse or otherwise manage flying fox roosts consistent with a Code of Practice. There will be no change to existing measures which allow farmers to apply for a lethal damage mitigation permit (strongly opposed by Wildlife Queensland).
In the Minister’s own words ‘Flying fox dispersal is a complex issue and consideration has to be given to where the animals may go once they are moved on’. Wildlife Queensland has major concerns that the new policy will increase unnecessary dispersals and perpetuate conflict about flying-foxes and that many local authorities do not have the expertise to undertake dispersals humanely and effectively.
The ‘as of right’ authority will apply for the non-lethal removal or modification of roosts and the dispersal of animals, and would need to comply with Commonwealth, state and local government laws.
Two species – the spectacled and grey-headed flying fox – are listed as threatened under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Wildlife Queensland considers that the relaxation of current regulations and policy is likely to cause more problems than it solves. Below are principles and foundations for effective urban camp management to assist in the formation of sound policy on the matter.
The principles listed below reinforce the complexity of the issue. Assuming an opportunity presents, Wildlife Queensland will certainly be commenting on the Code yet to be released. The urban myths concerning flying foxes must be set aside. Coexistence can occur and can be achieved with sound ecologically sustainable decision-making and community cooperation.
For more information on Wildlife Queensland’s activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us an email.
Principles and foundations for effective urban camp management
Flying-foxes and urban areas
- Flying-foxes are inevitably part of the urban landscape – there is no practical way of excluding them.
- Urban areas provide vital food resources for flying-foxes and urban camps are part of a linked network across the entire range of each species.
- There are more than 250 urban flying-fox camps in Queensland, and the majority are not a cause of conflict.
The role of urban food resources
- Availability of food resources is the pivotal driver of flying-fox movements.
- Southeast Queensland camps are fragmenting, probably due to food shortages which motivate flying-foxes to locate closer to food trees.
- Populations of grey-headed flying-foxes have been declining in southeast Queensland while black flying-fox populations have remained stable.
- Large-scale loss of food resources due to clearing and the expansion of urban areas have elevated the importance of urban food resources for flying-fox conservation.
Dispersals – effectiveness
- History has demonstrated that dispersals are usually unsuccessful, with most resulting in movement of a few hundred metres and eventual re-occupation. Much public funding has been wasted on ineffective dispersals.
- Increasing aggressiveness of dispersals will not make them more successful – in the past, shooting and helicopters have not worked to deter flying-foxes from returning to camps after disturbance has ceased.
- Moving flying-foxes within a corridor of contiguous vegetation has proven effective in some cases.
Flying-foxes and public health
- Health experts advise that it is safe to live near flying-fox camps. Infection risks (ABLV) occur only if people touch flying-foxes. Dispersing flying-foxes can increase the potential for interactions between humans and flying-foxes – for example, if harassed flying-foxes become entangled in barbed wire fences.
- Wildlife rescue groups play a vital role in public health by reducing the incentive for people to try to rescue flying-foxes that have been entangled (barbed wire or nets) or injured, the most common cause of unsafe interactions. Rescue groups also conduct a large proportion of public education on safe interactions. Support for community rescue and educational work would assist in public health.
- Provoking unfounded fear about flying-foxes can greatly stress people living near flying-foxes and has detrimental animal welfare and conservation consequences. The nocebo effect (opposite of placebo) generates real health impacts.
Flying-fox camps and amenity
- Some people enjoy or tolerate living near flying-fox camps; others are disturbed by noise or smell. Perceptions are highly subjective and can be exacerbated by fear of or ignorance about flying-foxes.
- Resolving amenity issues can only be done on a camp by camp basis, and may sometimes justify camp movement or modification.
Conservation and animal welfare
- Dispersals can have adverse welfare impacts on flying-foxes
- Dispersals can have adverse conservation consequences (particularly if they are widespread), if they interrupt breeding, compromise access to food (particularly during a food shortage) or compromise survival (eg. if young are separated from mothers).
- They also have adverse impacts if they increase community antagonism to flying-foxes, divert conservation resources and attention, and reduce government and community willingness for conservation.
Solutions for enduring coexistence
- Education to reduce unfounded fears of flying-foxes, ensuring that camps are managed on the basis of science and real amenity impacts.
- Government communications about flying-foxes to promote safe interactions, reduce unfounded fears, and promote tolerance of flying-foxes and urban camps.
- Camp by camp management to improve amenity for neighbours and protect and improve habitat quality for flying-foxes and other species.
- Development of alternative sites for problematic camps, preferably within the same vicinity and linked by vegetation corridors.
- Support for community rescue and care groups for their role in public health and education.
- State administration of the Nature Conservation Act to conserve and recover flying-fox populations, enforce humaneness standards, and disallow ineffective and unnecessary dispersals.