Les Speaks up for Bats

THE HINTERLAND’S most renowned natural scientist, zoologist Dr Les Hall has won a prestigious Whitley Award from the Royal Zoological Society of NSW for his pocket guide -Bats - published with photographer, Steve Parish.

Les works from his Maleny home on his new Bats book, to be published by CSIRO Books.

Les Hall has spent an academic lifetime studying bats both here and in bat-rich Borneo where he has trained many budding zoologists in that country. He is passionate about raising the public profile of bats which have received a battering in recent years with the emergence of the Hendra and Lyssa viruses attributed to the country-wide flying fox.
Les says the public fear and wariness of bats goes back centuries when bats were associated with vampires and Dracula and witches brews. “Most people have always been fearful of these black leathery things that fly around at night”, he says.

Les adds that many bat researchers now think that the Hendra virus, which has killed horses and four humans, is not actually transmitted to horses by the flying fox. They believe the virus is contracted by other animals, such as cats and then transmitted to horses. “Unfortunately,” says Les, “many horse owners in particular want to exterminate flying foxes.”

In their defence, Les says that recent research has shown that flying foxes are chiefly responsible for pollinating our hardwood forest trees because the trees are only receptive to pollination at night, when flying foxes are out and about. “So our commercial hardwoods along the east coast are very dependent on flying foxes,” says Les. ” The smaller bats also keep insect numbers down so if they were taken out of the equation en masse, we would have many more mosquitoes, moths and beetles all over the place.”

Apart from his Bats pocket guide, Les is completing a book on Borneo Bats and also what he calls his magnum opus – The Natural History of Australian Bats written with a CSIRO colleague of 40 years, Greg Richards which will be published by the CSIRO and Steve Parish in 2011.

This lavishly illustrated book contains the history of bat studies as well as identifying bats and bat habitats in every Australian city. The book required many field trips including several with Steve Parish. In the Northern Territory for example, they identified and photographed 25 different species of bats.

“My long term objective is to rid people of the fear and dislike of bats which is really due to a lack of education,” says Les. “I want to inspire people to help protect these remarkable animals.”

There are more than 20 Steve Parish Wild Australia guides which retail for under $14 and are intended as colourful ready references for Australian species of animals, birds, reptiles and marine life.

Bats are an amazing group of animals – they are the only mammals to have mastered true powered flight, yet they remain some of the most misunderstood and persecuted creatures.

Author Les Hall shares his expert knowledge in this comprehensive and authoritative book, which was awarded best Pocket Guide in the 2010 Whitley Awards for natural history publishing.

This Wild Australia Guide features information on habitats, breeding, predators and threats, the benefits from bats, bat conservation as well as caring for injured or orphaned bats. It aims to dispel the negative myths about these remarkable and intelligent mammals and demonstrate how engaging and fascinating bats really are!
Bats are the only mammals to have mastered true flight (gliders do not truly flap their “wings” like bats do) and possess many other amazing adaptations, such as echolocation. While bats deserve our respect and care as important pollinators of native plants, as well as crucial components of our ecosystems, most people barely notice them unless noisy colonies alert humans to their presence. Others actively campaign against colonies making their homes in parks and gardens close to cities. Yet, without bats, several important natural habitats would struggle to thrive or survive.

Dr Les Hall, Dr Greg Richards, two of Australia’s leading bat experts, and I started planning the Steve Parish Publishing Wild Australia Guide to Bats which was released in 2010 and has since one awards. Since then, I’ve spent a couple of years travelling with Les and Greg attempting to study and photograph all Australian species and assisting them in getting photographs for their new book to be published by CSIRO in July 2012 under the title ‘A Natural History of Australian Bats – Working the Night Shift’.

Over recent times in particular I have heard a lot of people malign bats or deride them as gothic or evil, fruit thieves or disease carriers, but I can tell you that most of the ill will towards them is undeserved. The threat of being infected by bats is no greater than being made sick by associating with the family cat or dog, especially as few people get close to bats in the wild. Once you do get close to them, you realise they are actually are gorgeous little mammals. Microbats can fit on the end of your thumb — they’re just adorable — and even flying-foxes look a lot like puppies when they’re young. Les and Greg have also enlightened me about so many fascinating aspects of bats’ lives and senses, too. I’ve got to admit I’ve gone totally batty over bats and find them a real thrill to photograph.

Australia has more than 90 bat species, including some truly bizarre and unique species, such as the carnivorous Ghost Bat. I hope that A Wild Australia Guide and the forthcoming Natural History of Bats books go some way to educating the general public to these truly incredible mammals.

Here are some of the special images appearing in the new book.


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BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats: Les Speaks up for Bats
Les Speaks up for Bats
Les Speaks up for Bats
BATS. Megabats, Flying-foxes, Fruit bats and Microbats
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