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Shooting of vulnerable flying foxes still legal

Green Lifestyle

Grey-headed flying foxes could face extinction if shooting continues.

Grey-headed flying foxes

Grey-headed flying foxes.

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Listed as vulnerable to extinction by the NSW Government, grey-headed flying foxes are now facing a high risk of extinction in the medium term future, with numbers continuing to fall.

“People call them vermin and say there are millions of them but there are actually estimated to be only 450 000 – 600 000 left,” NSW Conservationist Steve Amesbury says.

As a wildlife carer at the Shoalhaven Bat Clinic in Nowra, Mr Amesbury says he finds it hard to understand why people have such a negative view of flying foxes.

“If you look at the literature over the years, like Dracula for instance, and phrases like ‘bat out of hell’, maybe it embeds in the human psyche that bats are associated with evil, but they are actually very cute,” he says.

Before NSW legislation was introduced in 1986, fruit growers could kill grey-headed flying foxes without a licence, with shooting the main method of crop protection.

This month, the Humane Society International (HSI) welcomed clarification by the Government that licensed shooting of grey-headed flying foxes in NSW would come to an end in 2020.

Ms Alexia Wellbelove, Senior Program Manager at the HSI, says it is a relief that the NSW Government has finally committed to an end date for shooting, in full knowledge that the only effective method of crop protection is the installation of full exclusion netting.

“For those that continue to shoot, the NSW Government must ensure the highest welfare conditions are complied with to minimise suffering, and that this ineffective and outdated practice is discouraged wherever possible,” Ms Wellbelove says.

The only flying mammal in the world, flying foxes are fundamentally important to the natural environment in Australia and are the primary pollinators for a number of eucalypt species.

According to Dr John Martin, Wildlife Manager at the Royal Botanical Gardens, they are the only species that forage in eucalypts and then fly hundreds of kilometres within a night, cross pollinating the species and ensuring the genetic diversification of our trees.

“Without genetic diversification, eucalypts would be less robust and at greater risk of extinction themselves,” he says.

Dr Martin believes a positive step would be to see a parallel amount of money that has been made available to support orchardists to install netting provided by the Government for re-vegetation programs.

“Flying foxes would preferentially forage on natural food resources than on orchards, if they were made available, while re-vegetation programs help to improve biodiversity in general,” he says.

Clearing of their traditional habitat for agricultural and urban development over the last 200 years has meant that flying foxes have had to move to other areas to live, while the push to beautify our cities that started in the 1970s has brought them into closer proximity with people.

“I understand that people have concerns and I understand that they make noise and smell,” Dr Martin says. “However, I would like to highlight that the concerns about the viruses they carry are essentially not an issue. Hendra virus can only be contracted via a horse and lyssavirrus is only prevalent in less than one per cent of the entire flying fox population.”

Mr Steve Amesbury says that in the entire history of Australia only three people have died from lyssavirus, which is approximately the same number of people killed by dogs each year.

“It’s hard to understand why people have become obsessed with bats as a health issue,” he says. “You don’t see people reacting to koalas, kangaroos or other native animals in the same way as to bats.”

“They are one of our keystone species.”