A visit to Australia at the end of 2014 gave an opportunity to update the status of the flying-foxes in Bairnsdale, Victoria. During a trip to Cairns, Northern Queensland we saw flying-foxes which seemed to have taken over part of downtown Cairns. Though thousands of miles apart both these cities are experiencing the same concerns with the large bats.
Flying-foxes in Cairns, Queensland
On a walk to the popular Esplanade beach in Cairns we heard and smelled the bats well before we saw them. We were surprised by the large number of bats although they are normal in this part of the tropics. One of the bat-occupied trees (mango or ficus) was next to a multi-storey apartment block. The loud noise and unpleasant odor of the bats would certainly deter anyone from enjoying the great outdoors. We located 3 or 4 larger trees where the bats nested during the day. Their location was obvious from the droppings on the sidewalk and cars parked on the roadways.
Tree Removal May Harm Flying-foxes
Interestingly, Cairns city council claimed to have successfully dispersed the flying foxes, with the removal of several large trees in downtown Cairns in May 2014 . Further research indicates that the council may be libel for harm to the bats which are protected in Australia. When we stayed there in November 2014 the squabbling bats were very visible and active. The flying-foxes in downtown Cairns are very noticeable.
The Grey-headed and Spectacled Flying-foxes are protected under the
Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
as they play a vital role in keeping our ecosystems in good health
~ Australian Government Dept of Environment
In this part of Australia, these giant creatures live in huge colonies of up to 100,000. When they take flight at night their numbers can blacken the sky. The bats are an added concern for fruit growers in the area who have no defense against the protected fruit bats. Evidently some fruit growers, who have covered their crops with nets, which reduces crop yields, have gone into bankruptcy. A few farmers have resorted to shooting or electrocuting the bats by the thousands. The discussion continues on how to control the flying-fox numbers.
Flying-foxes in Bairnsdale, Victoria
An update on the Bairnsdale, Victoria flying-foxes we met several years ago. It was clear that the bats were still nesting in large numbers along the Mitchell River, next to a previously quiet residential area. The tops of several large trees where they nest during the day were stripped bare of leaves. It is difficult to know but it seemed as though there were many more bats than our last visit two years ago.
Bats Winter over
My family informs me that this may be the first winter that the bats have stayed over instead of flying north. The bats also seem to be moving closer to town and as a result more people are noticing them. There is a 137 page document outlining what the local authorities plan to do with the flying foxes who are becoming more and more of a concern.
Conclusion (from the report on Flying fox control methods):
The challenge to address flying fox damage in orchards is an ongoing one. A
significant amount of research both in Australia and overseas at this stage has failed
to identify a deterrent method that has achieved the success rate of full canopy
- If you park your vehicle under a bat occupied tree, it is advisable to wash it as soon as possible as the bat droppings can damage the paint finish on cars
- An often expressed concern is the closeness of the bats and the possible health risks for humans as they may carry Lyssavirus
- If planning a visit to Cairns a good idea might be to ask about the “bat situation” near your hotel. Our accommodation was fortunately two blocks from the closest “fruit bat tree” and was not a concern
As tourism is a major industry in Queensland, and in Australia, the local authorities and businesses certainly have a controversial dilemma. One of the few positive suggestions made was to include the bats as a tourist attraction, similar to that of crocodiles.
Links & References
- Australian Government Dept of Environment flying fox distribution map
- In Australia Flying fox versus fruit growers
- Flying foxes in Cairns the other side of the story
- East Gippsland Shire Council in Victoria, Australia management plan for the Grey headed flying fox
- “Flying fox solution Moves Another Step Closer” report from D. Chester, MP East Gippsland, July 2014
Example: excerpt from a (Trip Advisor) Cairns hotel guest in December 2014 hotel:
“I stayed here three days while on a four-week vacation in Australia and was definitely disappointed. While it is centrally located near the shopping district the main distraction and concern I had was bats. Which started the noise at 5:30 am and continued all day. On my first night I went out and was terrified of the bats …”
And another Trip Advisor Review – same hotel – same month :
“The “bat” reviews didn’t scare me. They were actually endearing to me. In case you were unsure, “Flying Foxes” are vegetarian fruit bats and have no interest in stinky humans. So, I made sure … to NOT ask for a poolside view in hopes of having trees filled with bats as our view. I was not disappointed even though we were told that several trees had recently been removed”