Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Flying Foxes Pink batts aren't the only bats that will be preying on Peter Garrett's mind at the moment. Of the many native species the Minister has responsibility for in his environment portfolio, probably none cause as much public and political controversy as flying-foxes -- that is, fruit bats. Within the next two months, the Minister will have to make a decision on whether to approve the proposal by Botanic Gardens Trust to disperse, by means of noise harassment, the colony of grey-headed flying-foxes from Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney. There will be immense political pressure on the Minister to approve the action.

The gardens are within the NSW environment portfolio and, to date, the state bureaucracy has done everything it can to ensure the dispersal goes ahead. All that stands between the Botanic Gardens Trust and some bat harassing is Commonwealth approval. But to approve the dispersal, currently the subject of a referral under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, the Minister will have to place a higher value on the preservation of exotic plant exhibits in the gardens than on the protection of a federally listed threatened species. There is a body of evidence that shows that dispersals generally don't work and are likely to have serious implications for the bats' welfare and breeding success. Problematically for him, the Minister's own department recently listed for public comment the Draft National Recovery Plan for the grey-headed flying fox.

This draft, endorsed by the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (of which Botanic Gardens Trust is a part), contains criteria that will be used to determine whether habitat should be classified as critical for the survival of the species. The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney meets every single one of the criteria. Loss of such habitat is highlighted as being a high priority threat to the recovery of the species. Approving a dispersal would be akin to dismantling a policy before the ink is even dry on the signatures. Approving the Royal Botanic Gardens dispersal will inevitably have a domino affect on those areas of conflict where residents feel that flying fox colonies are diminishing their quality of life but are being stonewalled when it comes to applications to disperse the bats. Maclean, on the mid-north coast of NSW, is a site of ongoing conflict; Singleton in the Hunter Valley is another with a long-term history of bat-related stress and it's only a matter of time before Kareela in Sydney's south and Bowraville on the mid-north coast turn into political problem areas because of flying-fox conflicts.

If the Minster approves the dispersal of the colony at the Botanic Gardens -- where human conflict with the bats is minimal and no one can seriously claim that their quality of life is being degraded -- how will he then be able to stare down applicants at sites where there is obvious conflict but don't have the loose change to spend on the extensive applications and approvals process (Botanic Gardens Trust has a budget for the dispersal that far exceeds what a local council could ever commit)? Garrett's bat problem is only going to get worse. *Crikey

The flying foxes that soar above Cairns each afternoon could ­become the city's newest tourist attraction. Dozens of tourists have been gathering near the Cairns Library each afternoon to watch hordes of bats flying away from nearby trees in search of food at dusk. For the past two weeks, the bats have been filling the sky at least three hours earlier than usual, creating an impressive sight in daytime. Tolga Bat Hospital co-ordinator Jenny Maclean believed the bats had become more active earlier because of the wet weather. "With all this wet weather, it’s very hard for them to get out and find food," Ms Maclean said. "If you’ve ever gone out on a motorbike without a visor in the rain, it’s very hard. Imagine if you were flying through rain. What it means is, they are hungrier than usual by 2pm and haven’t been able to get out as much the night before."

Ms Maclean said she had been trying to encourage the Environmental Protection Agency to erect an interpretive sign near the Cairns Library bat colony in an effort to educate people about native wildlife. "It’s something that could be used in marketing us as a wildlife destination," she said. Koala Beach Resort manager Ben Harvey said the bats were a spectacular sight during the day. "It definitely seems to be getting earlier and they really stand out in the light of the sky," he said. Mr Harvey agreed the flying foxes could be a tourism drawcard for Cairns. "I think it’s very unique," he said. "I’ve come up from Sydney and it’s something that really amazes me." Cairns Regional Council is hosting a bat summit this year, but has yet to set a date. Cairns Mayor Val Schier said there were ongoing issues across the region about the impact of flying foxes on residential areas. "Handling bats can be complex and if we can share information strategies with the scientists, environmentalists, residents and council officers, then with that power we can look at how we can prevent bats from settling in suburbia without damaging the environment," Cr Schier said. *Cairns Post

Melbournes heatwave in January killed about 700 flying foxes and affected many more native animals. Wildlife carers rescued hundreds of possums and birds across Melbourne while many died before they could be rehydrated and taken into care. A colony of endangered grey-headed flying foxes at Yarra Bend was devastated by the heat and many had dropped from the trees, said Denise Garratt, president of Help for Wildlife. Joanne Ainley, of the Australian Research Centre for Urban Ecology, processed the dead bats yesterday and said about 700 had died in the heat. Wildlife Victoria received 264 calls to its rescue hotline by midday on Tuesday. It was the busiest morning on record other than during the bushfires, said Aisha Reynolds of Wildlife Victoria. There were 349 calls on the day, 100 more than average. The group set up a triage unit at its Brunswick Street facility to cope with the number of injured animals. At the South Oakleigh shelter, which normally receives one or two animals a day, Michele Phillips said more than 50 came in. ''The possums just fall out of trees in this weather,'' she said. *Age

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