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Megabats, Flying-Fox, Fruit bat, info, environment NSW Gov AU




There are three species of flying-fox which are native to NSW:

Grey-headed flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus)

Photo: David McKellar
The grey-headed flying-fox is easily recognisable by its rusty reddish-coloured collar, grey head and hairy legs. It is also the most vulnerable species because it competes with humans for prime coastal habitat along the south-east Queensland, NSW and Victorian coasts.

Threatened species profiles - Grey-headed flying-fox

Black flying-fox (Pteropus alecto)

Photo: Nick Edards

The black flying-fox is almost completely black in colour with only a slight rusty red-coloured collar and a light frosting of silvery grey on its belly. This species is more common across the northern and north-eastern coast of Australia.

Little red flying-fox (Pteropus scapulatus)

The little red flying fox is the smallest Australian flying-fox and has reddish brown-coloured fur. Little reds will often fly much further inland than other flying-foxes.
Heat stress in flying-foxes
Flying-foxes can become stressed and dehydrated in the heat, especially when air temperatures exceed 40 degrees centigrade and conditions are dry.
About flying-foxes

Flying-foxes are nomadic mammals that fly across eastern and northern Australia feeding on native blossoms and fruits, spreading seeds and pollinating native plants.

All native species, including flying-foxes, are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.The grey-headed flying-fox is a threatened species: it is listed as vulnerable to extinction in NSW under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 and across Australia under the CommonwealthEnvironment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.


Why is the grey-headed flying-fox listed as vulnerable to extinction?

The grey-headed flying-fox is listed as vulnerable to extinction under NSW and Australian legislation because of declining numbers and key threats such as habitat loss and urban conflict.

Records indicate that grey-headed flying-foxes may once have numbered in the millions, but are now reduced to as few as 400,000. In the decade before listing, their population was estimated to have declined by 30%.

Loss of habitat is the main threat to grey-headed flying-foxes and is a key cause of their conflict with humans. Winter foraging is particularly affected by development in the NSW coastal floodplain areas.

Habitat loss has meant grey-headed flying-foxes are more affected by extreme weather and years of native food scarcity, leading them to target urban gardens and commercial fruit orchards. Farmers and those affected by nearby camps (flying-fox roosts) have in the past resorted to a variety of lethal methods to deter flying-foxes. Shooting of flying-foxes to protect fruit crops is legal in NSW if a licence has been issued under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. However, these licences will gradually be phased out, and will no longer be routinely issued after 2014.

Flying-foxes have a very low breeding rate, with mothers giving birth to only one pup per year. This means flying-fox populations can only increase slowly. Pregnancy and lactation coincide with fruit harvesting, so shooting at this time can have a significant impact on the population.

The listing of grey-headed flying-foxes as vulnerable gives the species more protection and attention. It has changed the way licences to harm flying-foxes are issued in NSW and the way in which proposals for development applications that will impact on grey-headed flying-foxes are assessed.

The grey-headed flying-fox has also been listed as vulnerable by the Australian Government under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

See the Species Profile and Threats Database for more information on the Commonwealth listing of this threatened species.

Given the wide geographic range of this species and its ability to travel long distances, strategies to ensure its survival need to cross state boundaries. A Draft National Recovery Plan for the Grey-headed Flying-fox (08214dnrpflyingfox, 420KB) has been prepared to promote the national survival of this species.

The national recovery plan considers the conservation requirements of the species throughout its range, sets objectives for its recovery, and identifies measurable actions that can be undertaken to reverse its decline and ensure long-term viability.
Flying-fox habitat

Traditional grey-headed flying-fox habitat is located within 200 km of the eastern coast of Australia, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria. Flying-foxes traditionally feed on nectar and pollen from flowers of canopy trees and fleshy fruits from rainforest trees and vines.




In 2010, many grey-headed flying-foxes were found roosting and foraging outside these traditional areas; some were found as far inland as Orange and as far south-west as Adelaide. Researchers speculate that flying-fox movements could be related to food scarcity, nectar flows or seasonal variations, and are uncertain whether such movements will be repeated.

What is being done to help the species?

OEH has identified 10 strategies to support the survival of the grey-headed flying fox, ranging across habitat management, community education, monitoring, research and mapping.

Management strategies need to acknowledge that flying-fox roosting habitats will increasingly occur close to urban homes and include measures to minimise impacts to and from flying-foxes. Similarly, in times of food scarcity, flying-foxes will choose to eat the fruit in orchards rather than starve. Therefore, foraging habitats need to be protected and restored, and a greater understanding of food-source dynamics and the feeding trends of flying-foxes is required.

There are a number of documents and websites with more information, including the following:
  • Best practice guidelines for the grey-headed flying-fox (08540tsdsflyingfoxbpg.pdf, 1MB) These guidelines provide key information, including best-practice guidance to land managers, bushland regenerators and private landholders seeking to conserve grey-headed flying-foxes.
  • Flying-fox camp management policy (ffcmp07281.pdf, 250KB) This report outlines OEH strategies for appropriately conserving and managing flying-fox camps in NSW, particularly when these camps are located close to urban areas.

To provide balanced public input into flying-fox management issues, the Department of Environment and Conservation established the NSW Flying-Fox Consultative Committee in August 2001, shortly after the listing of the grey-headed flying-fox as a threatened species in NSW.

The following reports are specific to NSW and detail the locations and patterns of use of known grey-headed flying-fox camps and food sources.


Flying-foxes and commercial orchards

When food is scarce, flying-foxes will target any readily available food sources, including backyard and commercial orchards of stonefruit, pome fruit (such as apples and pears), lychees, paw paw and coffee.

Netting

OEH advocates the use of full-exclusion netting as the only reliable means of avoiding crop damage by flying foxes. Full-exclusion netting consists of a rigid structure of poles and tensioned cables over which netting can be tautly and permanently held.
Credit: Qld Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation.

Information is available on netting of commercial fruit trees, how to protect them from wildlife such as flying-foxes, and how to minimise injury to native wildlife.

The Queensland Department of Primary Industries' To net or not to net (OrchardNettingReport.pdf, 3MB) is particularly useful for growers wanting to know the potential costs and benefits of installing netting.

In March 2011, the NSW Government announced it will provide financial assistance to eligible orchardists in the Sydney Basin and Central Coast regions to help with the cost of purchasing and installing flying-fox exclusion netting. In conjunction with the netting arrangements, licences to shoot flying-foxes will be phased out over the next three years across NSW, except in special circumstances.

For more information on both the subsidy program and the licence phase out, see NSW Flying-fox netting subsidy program.

Netting subsidy program extended to all NSW

The NSW Environmental Trust has announced that the netting subsidy program for orchardists has been extended to the whole of NSW, not just the Sydney Basin. This extension recognises that since the netting program began, unusually high numbers of flying-foxes have been occupying areas around Orange and other areas west of the Great Divide, and damaging crops.
The program is being administered by the NSW Rural Assistance Authority (RAA). For more information, contact the RAA on 1800 678 593 or visit the RAA website.


Acoustic, olfactory and visual deterrents

Other deterrents include the use of:
recorded sound (predator calls, animal alarm calls, loud and sudden noises)
smells (e.g. carbide)
lights (e.g. flashing strobe lights or bright light grids that may be movement activated)
scaring devices (e.g. Bird Frite 12-gauge cartridges, models of birds of prey, reflective streamers).

These methods appear most successful when alternated or used together. However, flying-foxes are intelligent animals and may soon become accustomed to any device that has no apparent threat. Certainly in times of food scarcity, the only reliably effective method to prevent damage from flying-foxes and birds is netting.
As a last resort OEH issues licences to property owners to kill a limited number of flying-foxes by shooting only. This occurs under section 120 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, where flying-fox damage has occurred to property.

The policy and procedural guidelines for the mitigation of commercial crop damage by flying-foxes are available from 'Protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage'.

An independent review was commissioned in 2008 to assess the validity of the NSW licensing policy for the legal harm (including killing) of flying foxes. This flying-fox licensing review determined that shooting is only effective if small numbers of flying foxes are targeted and is a contributing factor to the decline of the species. In response to the review panel's recommendations, the issuing of licences to harm flying-foxes will be phased out over the next three years. The phase out of licences will be accompanied by afinancial assistance package to help eliglible growers with the cost of installing exclusion netting.

See protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage for more information, including how to apply for a section 120 licence.
Flying-foxes in urban areas

Grey-headed flying-foxes are increasingly moving into urban areas in search of food and shelter, as a result of destruction of their natural habitat. This can sometimes be problematic for local residents, because of concerns about the noise and smell of flying-fox camps. Because the grey-headed flying-fox is listed as a threatened species in NSW, approval is required to disturb or relocate flying-foxes. A fact sheet about living with grey-headed flying-foxes suggests some simple measures that the community can take to minimise conflict when they are living close to a flying-fox camp.
Heat stress in flying-foxes

Exposure to air temperatures over 40 degrees centigrade can lead to heat-stress and death from dehydration in all flying-fox species, especially in dry weather. Rates of mortality increase sharply at temperatures above 43.5 degrees centigrade, especially in flightless juveniles.
What should you do if you find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox?

If you find an injured, stressed or orphaned flying-fox:
never attempt to handle it yourself, even if the flying-fox is heat-stressed or entangled in fruit tree netting, and is particularly agitated or frightened
call WIRES, the RSPCA or a relevant wildlife carer who has been registered and vaccinated against rabies.

To find a wildlife carer in your area, visit our 'Licensed fauna rehabilitation groups' page or the NSW Wildlife Council website.
What should you do if you find a dead flying-fox?

Do not directly handle dead flying-foxes. Where there is no direct handling or contact with flying-foxes, the risk of disease transmission is negligible.

If you find a dead flying-fox in a public area (e.g. on a road or in a park), call your local council to ask them to dispose of it.

If you must handle a dead flying-fox:
wear thick gloves (e.g. gardening gloves) and use a shovel where possible
wrap the carcass in at least two plastic bags before disposing of it
wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards
if you get scratched, consult your doctor immediately.

Carcasses should be buried at a minimum depth of 15 cm to avoid scavengers digging them up.

If you have concerns or questions about disposing of dead flying-foxes, contact your local council for advice on waste management in your area. In some situations, wildlife care groups might also be able to provide advice or assistance if they have resources available.

Any dead flying-foxes which are banded should be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme. If you find a banded flying-fox, do not attempt to read or remove the band yourself. Instead, call your local wildlife rescue group.
Guidelines for councils and wildlife carers

During extreme heat in flying-fox camps, it has been suggested that spraying the tree canopy with a fine mist of water near but not directly on flying-foxes may provide relief for the animals and significantly reduce mortality rates. This is possible only if the camp can be accessed by a water tanker or if there is access to a water source on-site.

Wildlife carers can reduce heat stress in rescued flying-foxes by wrapping them in wet cloths or towels and rehydrating them with water.

More information about water misting and caring for heat-stressed flying-foxes can be found in:
Information for wildlife carers about OEH’s policies on rehabilitating injured or orphaned flying-foxes can be found in:

Flying-foxes in your backyard?

Flying-foxes should not be a problem if they visit your backyard. Residential backyards are rarely ideal roosting habitat for flying-foxes. They may enjoy eating the nectar from any native flowers you may have, or occasionally your backyard fruit, but they would generally not stay for more than a week or two.

If flying-foxes are causing problems in your area, contact OEH to determine possible actions. See below for advice on protecting your fruit trees.
Netting of garden fruit trees

Guidelines have been prepared to assist owners of backyard and commercial fruit trees in the proper construction of netting structures that will protect their trees from damage and minimise harm to native wildlife, including flying-foxes.

For more information, see Netting of garden fruit tress - guidelines to protect wildlife March 2003.
Camp management

Urban encroachment into areas historically used by flying-foxes for roosting or foraging has resulted in increased conflict between flying-foxes and the general community, especially with the availability of fruit from backyard and commercial crops.

Management of this conflict first and foremost involves strategies to enable flying-fox camps to exist alongside urban communities. This may be assisted by community education, awareness of flying-fox camp locations (current and potential) at the zoning or planning stages of development, and identifying the 'best' locations for flying-fox camps.

OEH does not support disturbing flying-fox camps because relocation attempts are rarely successful and flying-fox camps are usually situated in areas with the best access to available food resources.

OEH acknowledges that there may be circumstances in which relocation may be warranted. Guidelines and recommended procedures for this are outlined in the Flying-fox Camp Management Policy.

Approval from the Australian Government may also be required. For more information, see EPBC Act policy statement - Grey-headed Flying-foxes.
Maclean Flying-fox Management Strategy

The Maclean Flying-fox Management Strategy was prepared by GeoLINK, an environmental consultancy, for the Maclean Flying-fox Working Group. The strategy has been endorsed by the working group which includes representatives from NSW Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH), NSW Department of Education and Communities (DEC), Maclean High School (MHS), the Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC), Clarence Valley Council (CVC), Land and Property Management Authority (LPMA), Country Energy, NSW Health and representatives from local community groups and residents.

The strategy provides direction for the management of flying-foxes in Maclean, which is intrinsically linked to flying-foxes in the broader region.

Extensive consultation occurred during the development of the strategy and included several stakeholder meetings and workshops, a public information session and exhibition of the draft management strategy where public comment was sought. Scientific literature relating to flying-fox biology, ecology and previous management experience was also analysed as part of preparing this strategy.
Any animal can carry disease. Flying-foxes can carry the Australian bat lyssavirus and Hendra virus; however, transmission to humans is extremely rare.

Australian bat lyssavirus

Australian health authorities suggest that lyssavirus, a virus similar to rabies, poses a low public health risk. Evidence suggests it can only be transmitted to humans in saliva from an infected flying-fox via a penetrating bite or scratch. Coming into contact with flying-fox urine or faeces reportedly poses no risk.
The best prevention methods include:
Avoid contact with flying-foxes. If you find an injured or trapped flying-fox, telephone the Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES) and wait for professional assistance.
Always use thick gloves if you are required to handle dead flying-foxes.
If bitten or scratched, thoroughly wash the wound, apply an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine and contact your local doctor immediately.
If you are at risk, your doctor may provide a post-exposure vaccine. Note that even if you have been vaccinated beforehand, you will need to be revaccinated.

See the NSW Health infectious diseases fact sheet for more information.
  • Hendra virus
Hendra virus has had much media attention with sporadic cases occurring since the first recorded case in 1994. Previous outbreaks have involved the death of one or more horses, and the virus is believed to have been transmitted from horses to humans.

Flying-foxes are natural 'hosts' of Hendra virus, meaning that they carry the virus but it has little effect on them. It is believed that the virus may be transmitted from flying-foxes to horses via exposure to urine or birthing fluids; although this has not been confirmed.

There is no evidence that Hendra virus can spread directly from bats to humans. Spill-over infection from horses to humans is a very rare event.

The key message is to ensure that horse feed and water troughs are not stored near trees where flying-foxes may feed or roost. Horse owners should use good hygiene practices around horses, be aware of the symptoms of Hendra virus and be vigilant when horses do become sick.

More information:
  • The NSW Department of Primary Industries website contains information on Hendra virus including information for vets and horse owners and situation updates.

Government websites


The Commonwealth Department of the Environment has nationally-focused flying-fox information, including:
Other flying-fox Information:
Dedicated Australian bat organisations and websites
Other documents
The Commonwealth Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (SEWPAC) has nationally focussed flying-fox information, including:
Information on flying-foxes can also be accessed from the Botanic Gardens Trust

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