Humane Society International (HSI) is urging governments to deploy emergency support for wildlife carers and prepare for sustained action as thousands of grey-headed flying-fox pups are being abandoned due to stress caused by a lethal combination of habitat clearing, drought, heat, and fire.
"Drought conditions have seen grey-headed flying-foxes suffering through a starvation event across much of their range for months, leaving vulnerable pups and wildlife carers at breaking point,” said Evan Quartermain, HSI's Head of Programs.
"With fires impacting the little food they have left we're now seeing pups still dependant on their mothers dying in their thousands after being abandoned. We're at serious risk of losing a generation of a threatened species we rely on for healthy forests.”
Flying-foxes are socially complex mammals with strong maternal bonds. The abandonment of pups shows mothers are being forced to give up on their young in a desperate attempt to save themselves. This behaviour is disastrous from both conservation and animal welfare perspectives.
The ongoing starvation event first hit the species in South East Queensland and northern NSW several months ago, and the stress grey-headed flying-foxes are under has been seriously exacerbated by fires that have now burned close to 3 million hectares of bushland along the east coast. Now the bats are suffering even at the southern end of their range.
This is a population-wide stress event with no end in sight, and as we brace for a record destroying national heatwave in the coming days an urgent and well-resourced response is needed. Flying-foxes are highly susceptible to soaring temperatures, with those in excess of approximately 42 degrees able to kill tens of thousands of bats in a matter of hours.
"Along with supporting wildlife carers on the front lines, HSI calls on local councils to immediately cease any planned dispersal or colony destruction actions, and for state governments to place a moratorium on licences to shoot flying-foxes for crop protection,” Mr Quartermain continued.
"It's deplorable that permissions to kill a threatened species are still being granted in states including NSW and Queensland at all, let alone when the situation is so desperate. Flying-foxes are up against it in a way they have never been before and the continued harassment and shooting must stop now.”
Humane Society International made the nomination that saw grey-headed flying-foxes listed as a nationally threatened species more than two decades ago and has been largely disappointed with efforts for their recovery and protection since.
"Despite their perilous situation and ecological significance being well known for decades, recovery and conservation actions for grey-headed flying-foxes have been woefully inadequate. This situation has been a long time coming and is a serious test of how we respond to wildlife emergencies as climate change bites with extreme temperatures.”
Flying-foxes are extremely important for the future of coastal forests due to their high mobility and preferred food sources. They pollinate over far larger distances than birds or insects and are vital to the reproduction, regeneration and evolution of forest ecosystems that safeguard Australia's biodiversity and are important carbon sinks essential to combatting climate change.
Image credit: facebook.com/sarahsbats/
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