Nature conservation

Native animals

Flying-foxes

Flying fox netting

Netting subsidy program extended until 30 June 2016

The NSW Environmental Trust has announced that the netting subsidy program for orchardists in the Sydney Basin and Central Coast regions has been extended for two years until 30 June 2016. This extension is in recognition of the poor fruit growing seasons in recent years and the financial difficulties experienced by many growers. This extension will provide the opportunity for more growers in the eligible regions to enter the program.

 

What do they look like?

There are three species of flying-fox which are native to NSW:

Grey-headed flying-fox

Grey-headed flying-fox

Grey-headed flying-fox

(Pteropus poliocephalus)

 

The grey-headed flying-fox is easily recognisable by its rusty reddish-coloured collar, grey head and hairy legs. It is also the most vulnerable species because it competes with humans for prime coastal habitat along the south-east Queensland, NSW and Victorian coasts.

 

Black flying-fox

Black flying-fox

(Pteropus alecto)

 

The black flying-fox is almost completely black in colour with only a slight rusty red-coloured collar and a light frosting of silvery grey on its belly. This species is more common across the northern and north-eastern coast of Australia.

Little red flying- fox

Little red flying-fox

Little red flying-fox

(Pteropus scapulatus)

 

The little red flying fox is the smallest Australian flying-fox and has reddish brown-coloured fur. Little reds will often fly much further inland than other flying-foxes.

Where do they live?

Flying-foxes are nomadic mammals that fly across eastern and northern Australia.

Traditional grey-headed flying-fox habitat is located within 200 km of the eastern coast of Australia, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Melbourne in Victoria. In 2010, many grey-headed flying-foxes were found roosting and foraging outside these traditional areas; some were found as far inland as Orange and as far south-west as Adelaide. Researchers speculate that flying-fox movements could be related to food scarcity, nectar flows or seasonal variations, and are uncertain whether such movements will be repeated.

What do they eat?

Flying-foxes feed on native blossoms and fruits, such as figs. Flying-foxes are beneficial to the growth of vegetation, as they spread seeds and pollinate native plants.

National flying-fox monitoring program

The national monitoring program for the grey-headed flying-fox commenced on 14 February 2013. This is the biggest census of grey-headed flying-foxes ever undertaken across the species' entire national range. The aim of the census is to deliver a reliable benchmark on the current size of the grey-headed flying-fox population in 2013, and to monitor population trends in the future. All known grey-headed flying-fox camps will be visited and counted four times per year for the next four years using a standardised methodology developed by the CSIRO. The information collected will provide a better understanding of flying-fox populations that will be used to better manage community interactions with flying-foxes and improve conservation outcomes for this species.

The program is a collaborative project between the Australian, NSW, Queensland, Victorian, ACT and South Australian Governments and the CSIRO. Further information about the census, including the methodology is available on the Australian Government website.

OEH has worked with local councils and the community to obtain updated information on the location of flying-fox camps in NSW and to implement the program. An interactive flying-fox web viewer that visually represents camp locations is available on the Australian Government Department of the Environment website. If you are aware of a flying-fox camp in your area that is not currently listed on the camp database, please email the details to speciespolicy@environment.gov.au.

Flying-foxes and commercial orchards

When food is scarce, flying-foxes will target any readily available food sources, including backyard and commercial orchards of stonefruit, pome fruit (such as apples and pears), lychees, paw paw and coffee.

Netting

Information is available on netting of commercial fruit trees, how to protect them from wildlife such as flfying-foxes, and how to minimise injury to native wildlife.

The Queensland Department of Primary Industries' To net or not to net (OrchardNettingReport.pdf, 3MB)  is particularly useful for growers wanting to know the potential costs and benefits of installing netting.

In March 2011, the NSW Government announced it will provide financial assistance to eligible orchardists in the Sydney Basin and Central Coast regions to help with the cost of purchasing and installing flying-fox exclusion netting. In conjunction with the netting arrangements, licences to shoot flying-foxes will be phased out, except in special circumstances.

For more information on both the subsidy program and the licence phase out, see NSW Flying-fox netting subsidy program.

For information on how to apply for a netting subsidy, contact the Rural Assistance Authority (RAA) by phoning 02 6391 3000 or freecall 1800 678 593.  

Acoustic, olfactory and visual deterrents

Other deterrents include the use of:

  • recorded sound (predator calls, animal alarm calls, loud and sudden noises)
  • smells (e.g. carbide)
  • lights (e.g. flashing strobe lights or bright light grids that may be movement activated)
  • scaring devices (e.g. Bird Frite 12-gauge cartridges, models of birds of prey, reflective streamers).

These methods appear most successful when alternated or used together. However, flying-foxes are intelligent animals and may soon become accustomed to any device that has no apparent threat. Certainly in times of food scarcity, the only reliably effective method to prevent damage from flying-foxes and birds is netting.

Licensing

As a last resort OEH issues licences to property owners to kill a limited number of flying-foxes by shooting only. This occurs under section 120 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, where flying-fox damage has occurred to property.

The policy and procedural guidelines for the mitigation of commercial crop damage by flying-foxes are available from 'Protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage'.

An independent review was commissioned in 2008 to assess the validity of the NSW licensing policy for the legal harm (including killing) of flying foxes. This flying-fox licensing review determined that shooting is only effective if small numbers of flying foxes are targeted and is a contributing factor to the decline of the species. In response to the review panel's recommendations, the issuing of licences to harm flying-foxes will be phased out. The phase out of licences is accompanied by a financial assistance package to help eliglible growers with the cost of installing exclusion netting.  

See protecting commercial crops from flying-fox damage for more information, including how to apply for a section 120 licence.

Flying-foxes in urban areas

Grey-headed flying-foxes are increasingly moving into urban areas in search of food and shelter, as a result of destruction of their natural habitat. This can sometimes be problematic for local residents, because of concerns about the noise and smell of flying-fox camps. Because the grey-headed flying-fox is listed as a threatened species in NSW, approval is required to disturb or relocate flying-foxes. A fact sheet about living with grey-headed flying-foxes suggests some simple measures that the community can take to minimise conflict when they are living close to a flying-fox camp.

Heat stress in flying-foxes

Exposure to air temperatures over 40 degrees Celsius can lead to heat-stress and death from dehydration in all flying-fox species, especially in dry weather. Rates of mortality increase sharply at temperatures above 43.5 degrees Celsius, especially in flightless juveniles.

What should you do if you find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox?

If you find an injured, stressed or orphaned flying-fox:

  • never attempt to handle it yourself, even if the flying-fox is heat-stressed or entangled in fruit tree netting, and is particularly agitated or frightened
  • call WIRES, the RSPCA or a relevant wildlife carer who has been registered and vaccinated against rabies.

To find a wildlife carer in your area, visit our 'Licensed fauna rehabilitation groups' page or the NSW Wildlife Council website.

What should you do if you find a dead flying-fox?

Do not directly handle dead flying-foxes. Where there is no direct handling or contact with flying-foxes, the risk of disease transmission is negligible

If you find a dead flying-fox in a public area (e.g. on a road or in a park), call your local council to ask them to dispose of it.

If you must handle a dead flying-fox:

  • wear thick gloves (e.g. gardening gloves) and use a shovel where possible
  • wrap the carcass in at least two plastic bags before disposing of it
  • wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water afterwards
  • if you get scratched, consult your doctor immediately.

If carcasses are burried, they should be buried at a minimum depth of 15cm to avoid scavengers digging them up.

If you have concerns or questions about disposing of dead flying-foxes, contact your local council for advice on waste management in your area. In some situations, wildlife care groups might also be able to provide advice or assistance if they have resources available.

Any dead flying-foxes which are banded should be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme. If you find a banded flying-fox, do not attempt to read or remove the band yourself. Instead, call your local wildlife rescue group.

Guidelines for councils and wildlife carers

During extreme heat events current best practice suggests that spraying individual heat-stressed bats with a fine mist of tepid water from a hand-held water sprayer when they are near or on the ground may be helpful. Spraying more broadly, of the camp or foliage, is not recommended. Spraying should only be undertaken by experienced, licensed wildlife carers who are vaccinated against rabies.

It is recommended that spraying does not commence within the colony until late in the day when the ambient temperature has dropped to below 35 degrees Celcius, This is because the added stress of human disturbance at higher temperatures can increase mortality .

Such spraying can cool individual highly distressed animals. However, care must be taken not to disturb or spray neighbouring bats, given spraying increases humidity and thus limits the capacity for evaporative cooling.

Flying-foxes should not be approached if they show any indication that they are trying to move away or escape from the presence of the sprayer.

Highly distressed individuals that do not respond to spraying may be removed from the colony by an experienced wildlife carer for more intensive cooling and rehydration.

More information about water misting and caring for heat-stressed flying-foxes can be found in:

Information for wildlife carers about OEH’s policies on rehabilitating injured or orphaned flying-foxes can be found in:

Flying-foxes in your backyard?

Flying-foxes should not be a problem if they visit your backyard. Residential backyards are rarely ideal roosting habitat for flying-foxes. They may enjoy eating the nectar from any native flowers you may have, or occasionally your backyard fruit, but they would generally not stay for more than a week or two.

If flying-foxes are causing problems in your area, contact OEH to determine possible actions. See below for advice on protecting your fruit trees.

Netting of garden fruit trees

Guidelines have been prepared to assist owners of backyard 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, see Netting of garden fruit tress - guidelines to protect wildlife March 2003.

Camp management

Urban encroachment into areas historically used by flying-foxes for roosting or foraging has resulted in increased conflict between flying-foxes and the general community, especially with the availability of fruit from backyard and commercial crops.

Management of this conflict first and foremost involves strategies to enable flying-fox camps to exist alongside urban communities. This may be assisted by community education, awareness of flying-fox camp locations (current and potential) at the zoning or planning stages of development, and identifying the 'best' locations for flying-fox camps.

OEH does not support disturbing flying-fox camps because relocation attempts are rarely successful and flying-fox camps are usually situated in areas with the best access to available food resources.

OEH acknowledges that there may be circumstances in which relocation may be warranted. Guidelines and recommended procedures for this are outlined in the Flying-fox Camp Management Policy.

Approval from the Australian Government may also be required. For more information, see EPBC Act policy statement - Grey-headed Flying-foxes.

Disease, who is at risk?

Any animal can carry disease. Flying-foxes can carry the Australian bat lyssavirus and Hendra virus; however, transmission to humans is extremely rare.

Australian bat lyssavirus

Australian health authorities suggest that lyssavirus, a virus similar to rabies, poses a low public health risk. Evidence suggests it can only be transmitted to humans in saliva from an infected flying-fox via a penetrating bite or scratch. Coming into contact with flying-fox urine or faeces reportedly poses no risk.

The best prevention methods include:

  • Avoid contact with flying-foxes. If you find an injured or trapped flying-fox, telephone the Wildlife Information and Rescue Service (WIRES) and wait for professional assistance.
  • Always use thick gloves if you are required to handle dead flying-foxes.
  • If bitten or scratched, thoroughly wash the wound, apply an antiseptic solution such as povidone-iodine and contact your local doctor immediately.
  • If you are at risk, your doctor may provide a post-exposure vaccine. Note that even if you have been vaccinated beforehand, you will need to be revaccinated.

See the NSW Health infectious diseases fact sheet for more information.

Hendra virus

Hendra virus has had much media attention with sporadic cases occurring since the first recorded case in 1994. Previous outbreaks have involved the death of one or more horses, and the virus is believed to have been transmitted from horses to humans.

Flying-foxes are natural 'hosts' of Hendra virus, meaning that they carry the virus but it has little effect on them. It is believed that the virus may be transmitted from flying-foxes to horses via exposure to urine or birthing fluids; although this has not been confirmed.

There is no evidence that Hendra virus can spread directly from bats to humans. Spill-over infection from horses to humans is a very rare event.

The key message is to ensure that horse feed and water troughs are not stored near trees where flying-foxes may feed or roost. Horse owners should use good hygiene practices around horses, be aware of the symptoms of Hendra virus and be vigilant when horses do become sick.

The CSIRO has recently launced a Hendra vaccine for horses, which is now available to all horse owners in Australia and can be administered by accredited vets. The Australian Veterinary Association recommends that all horses in Australia are vaccinated against Hentra.

More information:

Other flying-fox websites

Government websites

The Commonwealth Department of the Environment has nationally focussed flying-fox information, including:

Information on flying-foxes can also be accessed from:

Dedicated Australian bat organisations and websites

Other documents

 

 

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Page last updated: 03 July 2014