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 shortages.

Grey-headed flying-fox colony, (Pteropus poliocephalus), vulnerable speciesLiving 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.

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.

Netting of garden fruit trees

Protect your garden fruit in a wildlife friendly way publication coverIf you have fruit trees in your back yard and want to protect them from flying-foxes, OEH 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.

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.

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.

It is recommended that washing be taken indoors before 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

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 December 2016, there have been 3 confirmed cases of Australian Bat Lyssavirus in humans. All were 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.

Visit the NSW Health website for the Hendra Virus Fact sheet and Lyssavirus Fact sheet

Scratched or bitten by a flying-fox?

If you are bitten or scratched by a flying-fox, the wound should immediately be washed gently but thoroughly with soap and water for at least 5 minutes, an antiseptic, such as povidone-iodine should be applied, and a doctor consulted as soon as possible.

Members of the community should not handle flying-foxes unless they have been trained, vaccinated against Australian Bat Lyssavirus and use the proper protective equipment.

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

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

The NSW Wildlife Council website provides public information on who to contact for wildlife rescues or you can call your local wildlife rescue service such as WIRES on 1300 094737.

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

To find a wildlife carer in your area, visit Licensed fauna rehabilitation groups.

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

Dead grey-headed flying-foxIf carcasses are buried, 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 Licensed fauna rehabilitation group.

Protection of native animals

All native birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals, but not including dingoes, are protected in NSW by the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016.