Article and images by Tyron de Kauwe, Natural Areas Conservation Officer, Sunshine Coast Council
General flying-fox roost updates
Greetings, thank you for coming back for another issue of flying-fox community news.
April traditionally marks the winding down of flying-fox interactions in our coastal roosts. This season’s young have now become independent from their mothers and the adults have done what mature, consenting adults sometimes do when their young are independent - they have found a mate and started to breed.
For residents near urban roost sites, April is often a time that provides some comfort as flying-foxes typically begin to vacate these sites and start taking up residence in their winter roosts. There are many known winter roost sites across the region including Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve, Bells Creek, Eudlo Creek, Goat Island, Maroochy River and Mooloolah River National Park. Flying-foxes generally occupy these sites until August or September before returning to their maternity roosts to give birth and raise their young.
Movements at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
One of the more well-known roost sites occurs near the viewing platform at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve in Maleny. Although it seems like the population here is constantly occupying the same few trees, they actually respond to climatic conditions no different to those at other sites across the Sunshine Coast. The picture below shows how the footprint—the overall area occupied by the flying-foxes—changed over summer in response to the hot weather. The flying-foxes moved from their primary location to an area with more dense mid-storey coverage that produced a cooler spot to avoid the heatwave. The routine monitoring of sites performed by Ecosure allows council to see what trends occur over time at sites across the coast, and also allows the public to see how dynamic flying-foxes are in their behaviour and movements.
Some readers may recall that last issue I covered a substantial flying-fox heat stress event in Cairns where 23,000 of the 75,000 spectacled flying-fox passed away due to overwhelming heat. I have a further update on the situation and the continued fallout from a two-day heatwave.
Most of the spectacled flying-fox deaths were adults, likely struggling from the toll of rearing young during a food shortage event. In one camp in Edmonton, 11,000 flying-foxes died and 351 young were rescued. Across all of the affected roost sites in Cairns, 851 young were rescued and required hand-rearing by carers. So great was the number of young each carer was required to care for that many volunteer carers from across the state were enlisted to help take some of the slack.
In other news at Cairns, the council will be trialling the use of a release cage to encourage those in the CBD site out of the urban area.
A care-and-release enclosure has been built and will be placed at the historic roost site at Arthur Strike Park in Edmonton. Orphaned young from the heat event and other rescues throughout the season will be rehabilitated in the cage before being released onsite.
It is hoped that the presence of young within 10km will encourage the adults residing in the CBD to investigate the area and potentially set up a roost site around the young to offer them greater protection. There is also the potential for young released at this site to join other roosts soon after release but return to Arthur Strike Park the next season to an area they recall as being safe and suitable to rear their young. Young will be released into this enclosure this month dependant on the severity of the wet season.
Council is watching this trial very closely to determine whether it is a viable method for encouraging flying-foxes into low conflict areas.
Bats in backyards - pilot project
Council will be performing a citizen science pilot project looking at the foraging of flying-foxes around the Landsborough roost. This project invites members of the public to document where and what plant species flying-foxes are foraging on to increase knowledge around what the preferred species are in this area and how far they are travelling for food during the energy-expensive mating season.
The project is running over the weekend of 13 - 14 April and all you need to take part is careful hearing, good eyesight or a small torch and the free ‘BioCollect’ app. The survey area spans a 20km radius from the Landsborough roost and you can take part from your own backyard.
There is now a new contact for this project should you have any questions or want to be involved. Please contact [email protected] for more information.
Backyard buddies - library talks
The wonderful Geckoes Wildlife will be displaying many amazing nocturnal natives, including flying-foxes, at six Council libraries across the Sunshine Coast. Each of these events are FREE and bookings are necessary to secure a spot. Book online here.
5th annual Australasian bat night at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve
Get excited for another Australasian Bat Night at Mary Cairncross Scenic Reserve. To celebrate the fifth year of this FREE community event we will be bigger than ever!
This special Bat Night will be held on Saturday 27 April from 4:30 - 8:30pm and will include many presentations including a cultural connections talk, wildlife demonstration from Geckoes Wildlife, wildlife biologist Clancy Hall and an outdoor cinema screening Lego Batman.
There will also be stalls with plenty of activities available from 3pm
- Council’s Caloundra Regional Gallery will showcase three wonderful collection works from the Sunshine Coast Art Collection alongside a self-guided art activity of making a bat mobile form natural waste materials.
- Council Libraries will provide books and kids’ activities during the day before the bat night begins.
- Create your own printed “Bat Pack” to carry all your batty goodies in.
- Talk to the carers that rescue our injured flying-foxes
- Find out how to join a bushcare group and enjoy a native plant giveaway.
- Hang out like a bat at the outdoor aerial workshop (weather permitting).
As always, bookings are essential as this event is VERY popular. Due to the limited parking near the reserve, a shuttle bus will be running from Maleny Showgrounds to and from Mary Cairncross. If you do not plan on using the bus, please try to organise a carpool to Mary Cairncross.
Did you know that fruit bats don’t just eat fruit?
Researchers from the Australian Museum have recently published their findings showing that many grey-headed flying-foxes actively hunt and eat cicadas. The researchers collected and photographed oral ejecta pellets (usually the skins and seeds of fruit spat out by flying-foxes after eating the flesh) and found the remains of many chewed insects. It is not certain as to why they eat the insects but it may have something to do with a lack of high energy food resources during summer, when they are rearing young.
Vampire bat venom used for medical purposes.
Researchers from the University of Queensland and around the world have partnered to potentially find a new medical treatment for life-threatening conditions such as hypertension in humans and for potentially improving blood flow to burns and skin grafts.
Vampire bats Desmondus rotundus (yes, they do exist) use a type of venom called ‘Draculin’ to dilate blood vessels and delay the formation of blood clots when they bite their prey, so that they can feed on the blood quickly before it congeals. The researchers have found peptides within the Draculin venom that are similar to human calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) which is responsible for dilating blood vessels in the human body.
There is great potential for this research to promote drug development of Draculin to assist with human health, and conservation of vampire bats could actually assist conservation of human life.
If you would like to read more about the research, check out this website.
Bats in focus
This section is usually reserved for sharing information on a species of bat that may not otherwise get much attention and show some of their amazing adaptations. However, this issue I would like to commemorate the passing of an incredibly significant figure in the animal conservation world and particularly in Australian flying-fox management.
It is with great sadness that I inform you that Dr Les Hall OAM, passed away in early February. For those who have attended past Bat Nights, you would recognise Les as the charming researcher that would headline the event and effortlessly educate the masses on the weird and wonderful features of bats—much like this very section aims to do.
Les was at the forefront of bat research, having studied them for over 40 years. He was a consultant for the orchard grower association complaints against flying foxes in the 70’s, was involved in early Hendra virus detection and research, worked in the Division of Wildlife Research for the CSIRO, was an animal welfare advisor on dispersal programs around the country and developed novel techniques for management, such as the canopy-mounted sprinkler system currently used by Sunshine Coast Council. Although his passion for conservation was mainly focused in Australia, and his local community in Maleny, he also spread his knowledge internationally. He was a member of the IUCN Chiropteran Specialist Group, an advisor for Bat Conservation International and trained many budding zoologists in Borneo. Right to the end, Les was still involved in bat research, as one of the advisors to the Australasian Bat Society Flying Fox Expert Group.
He was also a very talented artist and author, illustrating many Australian animal field guides, producing several books and providing illustrations and information in ‘The Magic of Mary Cairncross’ for his favourite Sunshine Coast location. He was a great educator, lecturing human and veterinary anatomy and conservation biology at the University of Queensland for 26 years.
Les Hall was a true gentleman of conservation and the original bat superhero long before the man in the black cape came along. His passing is a monumental loss for flying-fox conservation, education and management, and I do not think it is an overstatement to say that his passing is a greater loss to flying-fox conservation than any heat event could ever be. He will be greatly missed but his legacy will be continued through the research and work of flying-fox experts across the country. Dr Les Hall was a truly exceptional man whose contribution to conservation will forever be appreciated.