Nature conservation

Native animals

Living with flying-foxes

Flying-foxes are increasingly setting up camp near towns and people in search of food and shelter because of the loss of their natural habitat and in response to local food availability. Living near flying-fox camps can sometimes be problematic for local residents, because of health concerns and impacts on amenity. Because flying-foxes are protected in NSW, approval is required to disturb or relocate them. The following information suggests some simple measures that people can take to minimise the disturbance when they are living close to a flying-fox camp.

Why do people care about flying-foxes?

Flying-foxes, like koalas and kangaroos, are native species and are protected in Australia.

Flying-foxes play an important role in Australian environments because they are natural pollinators and seed dispersers. They are crucial for the survival and regeneration of our native forests and are important for local honey production. They also provide food for other native animals such as owls.

Flying-foxes in your back yard?

Flying-foxes may visit your back yard at night but are unlikely to stay for long. Residential back yards are rarely ideal roosting habitat for flying-foxes, but instead may be a source of food such as nectar and fruit during night time feeding activities.

If flying-foxes are causing problems in your area, contact your local council or Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) to determine possible actions.

Netting of garden fruit trees

If you have fruit trees in your back yard and want to protect them from flying-foxes, Office of Environment and Heritage recommends the use of wildlife-friendly netting that is well secured and has a gap size of less than five millimetres. Guidelines have been prepared to help owners of back yard and commercial fruit trees in the proper construction of netting structures that will protect their trees from damage and minimise harm to native wildlife, including flying-foxes.

For more information download Protect your garden fruit in a wildlife friendly way (PDF 1MB).

Plant roost trees away from houses

To make roost trees near housing less attractive to flying-foxes, clear shrubs and plants from under trees and remove some of the branches of the trees. Where there are no trees near housing or along fence lines, low, dense trees and shrubs can be planted as flying-foxes are unlikely to roost in them. Over time, a roost may be encouraged to move by planting roost trees further away from houses.

Odour and noise

The main odour associated with flying-foxes is the scent male flying-foxes use to mark their territory. While this smell may be offensive to some people, it does not represent a risk to human health.

Noise can be an issue when a roost is located near residential and business areas or schools. When flying-foxes are stressed or frightened, they make a lot more noise. Colonies tend to be noisiest when they are disturbed by people and quietest when left alone.

In some circumstances, active management may be appropriate for a particular camp. Depending on a range of factors, the management may involve routine camp management actions such as mowing and the removal of weeds to more significant actions such as buffer creation and camp disturbance or dispersal. For more information please refer to the Flying-fox camp management policy 2015.

Droppings

Flying-foxes are active at night when flying long distances in search of food. If your house is in the flight path of flying-foxes, droppings may have an impact on amenity.

It is recommended that washing be taken indoors prior to sunset. If washing is left out overnight, think about putting up old sheets or a shower curtain on top to cover your washing. Direct handling of flying-fox droppings should be avoided. The health risks associated with flying-fox droppings relate mainly to the small potential risk to humans of gastrointestinal or lung diseases.

Droppings from many animals including flying-foxes may end up on roofs. These contaminants can then be washed into rainwater tanks when it rains. NSW Health recommends against drinking water from rainwater tanks where there is public drinking water available. Advice on safely managing rainwater for drinking purposes where there is no alternative supply is available on the NSW Health website.

Minimising flying-fox impacts

The impacts of flying-foxes on nearby residents and buildings can be reduced in a number of ways:

  • Dense planting to create screens at residential boundaries can assist in reducing smell, noise and general amenity impacts.
  • Acoustic insulation such as double-glazed windows can address noise issues.
  • Installation of air-conditioners can help when strong odours prevent windows and doors from being left open.
  • Clothes dryers can be used when outdoor clothes lines may be subject to flying-fox droppings.

Other measures include shade cloths for yards, covers for cars, and talking to your local council about subsidies for power bills and car washing.

Schools near flying-fox camps

Schools in close proximity to flying-fox camps should encourage students to stay away from the flying-foxes, their droppings and urine. Children should always wash their hands with soap and water after playing outside as a matter of good hygiene. Where roost trees occur in close proximity to outdoor play areas, schools should discuss tree lopping and removal with their local council. Consider installing shade cloths or protective covers, or restrict access to the area temporarily.

Pets and flying-foxes

Pets should be kept away from flying-foxes if possible. If a pet becomes sick after contact with a flying-fox, seek advice from a veterinarian.

Disease risk

Flying-fox camps in public places, such as parks, school grounds and residential areas, can sometimes raise concerns about possible health risks for people. Concerns include flying-fox infections, noise, odour and the impact of flying-fox droppings on houses, cars, and washing.

Human infections with viruses borne by flying-foxes are very rare. In Australia as of July 2015, there have been three confirmed cases of Australian Bat Lyssavirus in humans. All were in Queensland. There have been seven confirmed cases of Hendra virus in humans, also all in Queensland.

NSW Health advises that you should avoid direct contact with flying-foxes as there is always the possibility of being scratched or bitten and it leading to infection.

If you are scratched or bitten by a flying-fox, seek immediate medical attention.

Go to NSW Health for the Hendra Virus Fact sheet and Lyssavirus Fact sheet.

For further information on how to deal with injured, stressed, orphaned or dead flying-foxes please go to the Flying-foxes page.

Page last updated: 12 May 2016