Flying fox community news December 2019

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Article by Tyron de Kauwe, Natural Areas Conservation Officer, Sunshine Coast Council

Hello again for the final 2019 edition of Flying-fox Community News.

As most locals would know, since the last edition, south east Queensland and many other regions have experienced an extended period of drought. These conditions have led to reduced flowering and fruiting of many native trees, and those that have flowered have had poor nectar production.

Unfortunately, these conditions are not conducive to flying-fox survival and instead they are relying on non-native food sources in yards or parks. This has led to some unusual behaviour such as small groups of flying-foxes staying in these food trees during the day and food guarding behaviour. With starvation setting in, many flying-foxes are too weak to return to their roost in the morning, so they are staying in food trees until either they have enough strength to fly back, the food runs out and they have to find another tree, or they die.

Many adults are also fighting off other flying-foxes at food sources — the video attached was captured by one of our Land for Wildlife officers at 10:30am one September morning and shows one adult grey-headed flying-fox trying to fend off some competition for his palm tree.

Flying fox food guarding behaviour

As their diet is largely fluid-based, flying-foxes are also prone to dehydration. This combined with their inability to sweat, prolonged periods of drought and the recent hot weather all spell disaster for them.

Mass mortality has occurred across the east coast of Australia during this drought period (since mid-August) and has extended from Taree, NSW through to Gladstone, QLD.

September and October achieved some of the worst results in recent history, with wildlife hospitals, rescuers and rehabilitators being stretched well beyond their means. Compared to the same period in 2018, this September Australia Zoo Wildlife Hospital had an increase in flying-fox admissions of over 750%.

An overview of the reach of this event is outlined in this article.

Batty field trip to the cape

In memory of bat researcher Dr Les Hall, one of our Land for Wildlife officers, Danielle Outram, wanted to use her long service leave to contribute to bat research.

In late September through to early October, Danielle was lucky enough to go on an Australasian Bat Society field trip to Cape York. She made a wonderful video of her once-in-a-lifetime experience, showing the amazing research performed and providing some insight into remote research life. You can watch her video here.

4th annual flying-fox forum

The Fourth Annual Flying-Fox Forum was held in Canberra on 14 November. It brought together hundreds of local land managers, state and commonwealth government officers, wildlife rehabilitators, researchers, ecologists and consultants. Together they were updated on emerging technologies and techniques, as well as the latest research and status of flying-fox occupation around the country.

Unsurprisingly, due to the mass mortality event in Cairns last November, the forum was dominated by discussions on heat stress management. Sunshine Coast Council was the only Queensland local government to present on the trial of our Heat-stress Autonomous Response Unit. More about this technology can be found within Council’s conservation success stories.

Of note from other presentations were investigations into using drones with thermal imaging technology and machine-based learning to more accurately count flying-fox populations, and a number of ongoing projects from the NSW Government. There are still some challenges to work through with the monitoring technology, but it is hoped that this technology might be used in the future to improve population count accuracy.

The NSW Government have published the results of flying-fox subsidy programs delivered by six NSW councils to reduce social impacts by providing items or services to residents. Examples of the services included providing car covers for residents concerned with flying-fox droppings and each program was delivered using grant funding from the NSW Government. They also investigated the significant influence wildlife rehabilitators have on flying-fox populations based on the high level of successful caring and release.

The NSW Government have engaged Ecosure to map locations with the highest potential for habitat restoration across the state and have weighted 334 camps based on many values including level of conflict, conservation value and history of mass flying-fox influxes. While Sunshine Coast Council already has roost suitability modelling for our local area, this work could complement the current modelling. Identifying the best areas to rehabilitate is common practice for reserve management, but extending this to flying-fox issues could prove to be beneficial for land managers and it is hoped that similar mapping may be used in Queensland.

‘Creatures of the night’ bat night

Another Australasian Bat Night was held at Caloundra State School on 31 October. Over 140 attendees dressed up, got involved in a range of activities, enjoyed themselves and a fun animated film and, most importantly, became more educated on the ecological importance of bats.

Also at the event, we announced the inception of the annual Les Hall Young Conservationist Award.

It is an absolute privilege to partner with the Hall family to provide an avenue to recognise and encourage our future generation of conservationists to achieve on-ground results across the Sunshine Coast.

As was Les’ passion, this award aims to encourage youth to take an active role in conservation. Nominations for this award are open NOW, until midnight 31 January 2020, with the winners (announced at Bat Night on 18 April 2020) receiving an opportunity to participate in a wildlife conservation field experience with WWF Australia, valued at up to $2,000.

Nominees can be individuals or a group with at least 75% of the group 18 years or younger, and they must have achieved outcomes within Sunshine Coast Council local government area. Despite Les’s extensive work on flying-fox management and bat research, the nominees do not have to focus on this field.

If you know of any young conservationists that have made a difference, please encourage them to nominate themselves, or better yet, nominate them yourself using the short online nomination form. Find out more about the award.

It is in the best interest of ourselves and the environment that we support innovation, passion and dedication in future generations to conserve our precious environment.