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Rescuers ready to save bats


Heat-stressed grey-headed flying foxes will be sprayed with water or fed electrolytes to rehydrate them should the temperature reach 38 degrees, as forecast.
Photo: Craig Abraham

THEY'VE been expelled from the Botanic Gardens, called screeching and foul-smelling, and accused of damaging the Yarra Valley fruit industry. Teed-off golfers have been known to hit a few balls at them.

But with summer heat taking a toll on the Yarra Bend bat colony in Kew, the animals many Melburnians love to hate do have some humans on their side. About 450 bats died in last month's hot spell, and Department of Sustainability and Environment officers, along with wildlife volunteers, are aiming to protect the rest of the colony.
With temperatures expected to hit 38 this weekend, the Yarra Bend camp will be patrolled to try to prevent more deaths. Heat-stressed grey-headed flying foxes will be sprayed with water or fed electrolytes to rehydrate them.

The department's flying fox project manager, Michelle McHugh, said the animals' bad reputation was unfair.

"There is a lot of mythology surrounding bats … they are working really well at Yarra Bend," she said. "Protecting the species this summer has an even greater importance now because they have a crucial role in the future recovery of Victoria's forest areas after bushfire."

Ms McHugh said there was also a legal obligation to protect the threatened species.

A $1.7 million State Government five-year management plan for the bats at Yarra Bend has included the development of wetlands ponds, tree plantings and installation of a public viewing platform.

The department says the Yarra Bend location has been a great success, with 8000 permanent residents and up to 30,000 in the colony at its summer peak, with seasonal migration from southern Queensland and NSW.

Bat volunteer and Victorians Advocate for Animals president Lawrence Pope said Victorians needed to learn to appreciate their bats. After bushfires, they helped revegetation by carrying 50 times more pollen than birds and bees, he said.

A BAT'S LIFE

Grey-headed flying foxes are a large bat species, weighing up to one kilogram with a wingspan of up to one metre.

They are mammals and give birth to one pup each year. They live for six to 10 years.

They travel up to 100 kilometres each night, feeding on fruit, nectar and pollen.

Flying foxes navigate by sight and have night vision similar to cats'.

The Yarra Bend colony has 30,000 animals: 8000 are permanent: the rest migrate from NSW and Queensland in summer.

They are threatened, with 300,000 nationally compared with about 25 million a century ago.

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