Residents driven batty by flying foxes have been raided by officials who seized air horns they had used to try to scare the bats away. Officers from the Department of Environment and Resource Management armed with search warrants raided a Gold Coast home yesterday. The long-suffering residents are being warned they face jail and $100,000 fines if they persist in trying to frighten off the flying foxes. The bust shocked and angered residents who accused the State Government of putting "disease-ridden" bats before people and called in lawyers to fight back. The raid came as communities across Queensland grapple with flying fox plagues and the deadly Hendra virus crisis. The raid followed Southport residents going public with their horn-blowing campaign in a desperate bid to rid their neighbourhood of thousands of screeching flying foxes. Robyn Burgess, who lives amid a large bat colony in an exclusive part of the suburb, said she was "dumbfounded" when DERM officials knocked at her door just after 8am yesterday brandishing a search warrant signed by a magistrate.
She and her husband Robert were forced to hand over air horns and a flyer they had made to advise neighbours where to buy the devices. "The officials were actually sitting outside my house when I arrived home from a funeral - they could have left a card but instead they turned up ... with a search warrant looking for 'evidence of the commission of an offence'," she said. The Burgesses and their neighbours resorted to using air horns after "trying everything" to ward off the flying foxes, including firing an air pistol. Mrs Burgess said she had no idea she was breaking the law until it was brought to her attention in a media interview earlier this week. "I was pretty speechless," she said. Mrs Burgess has called in lawyer Bill Potts, who described the raid as ridiculous. "Clearly, these noisy, defecating, Hendra virus and lyssavirus-carrying creatures are not meant to be in suburbia, especially in such large numbers," he said.
"This is Southport we're talking about, for heaven's sake. It's an inner-suburb of the Gold Coast, not somewhere out in the hinterland. The residents have been put in a position where they are powerless but, instead of trying to help them, the Government is threatening them with jail and fines." Potts Lawyers colleague Rob Franklin said the Government had failed to address the problem of bat colonies establishing themselves in the suburbs and the Hendra virus outbreak, responsible for the deaths of 15 horses and a family dog, made a solution even more urgent. "It's about balancing the interests of wildlife protection and public safety and unfortunately, that balance is out of whack at the moment," he said.
DERM last night confirmed a search warrant had been executed on a Southport residence "in relation to recent allegations of sound devices being used to interfere with a flying fox roost". The department's general manager of conservation, strategy and planning Clive Cook, said: "DERM will investigate this matter to determine whether further action is necessary." Robert and Robyn Burgess say they have spent more than $100,000 trying to soundproof their Southport home from the din of thousands of screeching bats. "We've put in commercial windows, insulation and airconditioning but still the noise and the smell persists," Mrs Burgess said. "They arrive about an hour before dawn and dusk every day. Winter's not so bad because they don't fly in until about 4.30am but in summer it can be as early as 2am. "The racket is unbelievable and I wake up every morning to see bats less than a metre from my window."
Mr Burgess likened the cacophony to "closing time at the pub but about a million times louder". "It's so loud it even drowns out the kookaburras," he said. The couple said the smell from the bats was "pungent" and potentially disease-carrying bat droppings were everywhere. "We have three cats and they regularly come in with bat poo in their fur," Mrs Burgess said. "Now there is the worry with Hendra virus, especially now that we know domestic pets can be infected." The Burgesses, who have lived in their Egerton St home for 19 years, say the bats moved in about nine years ago and shattered the peace of their once-tranquil neighbourhood. They contacted the then Environmental Protection Agency which said there was nothing that could be done. "We started using the air horns out of desperation," she said. *Courier Mail
A series of vigilante attacks against bats are being investigated by the RSPCA, including the lighting of fires to "smoke" them out. As the Hendra virus outbreak enters its third month, animal welfare groups are receiving disturbing reports of violence against bat colonies. The attacks have prompted warnings that residents confronting distressed flying foxes risked contracting lyssavirus. One woman, who asked not to be identified, said her family was furious after watching attempts by some locals at Gayndah to move stressed bats out of the township. "I've seen people lighting fires either side of the colony, trying to smoke them out. They shoot off these loud gas guns. I've also watched people walking into the area with big sticks," she said. An investigation has been launched into the death of an endangered grey-headed bat caught on a barbed-wire fence at Northgate in Brisbane's outer north.
Bat Conservation and Rescue Queensland president Louise Saunders said five men had been poking at the bat with sticks. "Its mouth was ripped to shreds and it ripped its wings as it got more entangled." The group also called in environmental officers to an incident at Regents Park in Logan City last weekend. Spokesman for the RSPCA Michael Beatty said inspectors would determine if the Northgate workers had attacked the bat or were trying to rescue it. Anyone bitten or scratched by a bat could be at risk of lyssavirus, he said. Southport residents near Gardiners Creek have tried air horns to drive away a colony but Environment and Resource Management officers warn they risk a 12-month jail term or $100,000 fine by causing stress to bats. * Courier Mail
Hendra virus can be transmitted from flying fox to horse, horse to horse and horse to human. While the exact route of transmission is not known, it is thought that horses contract Hendra virus by ingesting material contaminated by infected flying fox body fluids and excretions. There is no evidence of Hendra virus spreading from person to person or from flying fox to human. The scientific information available on the disease is not complete and research continues to learn more about Hendra virusparticularly about how it is transmitted from flying foxes to horses. While Hendra virus is present in flying fox populations, the risk of horses being infected is very low. Horses should be removed from paddocks where flowering/fruiting trees are attracting flying foxes. Horses should be returned only after the trees have stopped flowering/fruiting and the flying foxes have gone. If it is not possible to remove horses from paddocks, try to temporarily remove your horses during times of peak flying fox activity (usually at dusk and during the night). * Biosecurity Queensland
Ed Comment; If we lose the flying foxes, and we well might, the media, and especially the Courier Mail, will have played a leading role through their attempts to demonise these magnificent and important native animals.