Rescuing and rehabilitating injured flying-foxes
New South Wales has an active network of volunteer groups who rescue injured, sick or orphaned native animals, including a network of carers who focus on flying-foxes and other bats.
Carers play an important role in relieving the suffering of injured animals by providing appropriate treatment and care.
Carers also contribute to the conservation of wildlife populations by returning rehabilitated animals to their natural habitat.
Flying-fox carers in particular play an important role in improving the public perception of flying-foxes when they meet members of the community while doing rescue work.
They also contribute to your safety by removing the need for you to handle the animals and protect you from being scratched or bitten.
A recent scientific study highlighted the efforts of flying-fox carers: Using wildlife carer records to identify patterns in flying-fox rescues: a case study in New South Wales, Australia.
Any flying-fox could potentially carry Australian bat lyssavirus. There is a vaccine for rabies, a similar disease, which provides some protection. All flying-fox carers must have received this vaccination and undertaken specialised training in rescuing and rehabilitating bats.
What do I do if I find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox?
Never touch a flying-fox, even if you find one caught in barbed-wire, fruit netting, exotic vegetation, on the ground, or away from its camp.
If you find an injured, sick or orphaned flying-fox, contact a licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation provider or use the IFAW Wildlife Rescue App to quickly find the closest licensed carer.
Give the operator as much information as you can about the location. The rehabilitation group will then arrange for trained volunteers to rescue the animal.
If possible, stay with the animal until the rescuers arrive.
Rehabilitating a native animal without an authority is illegal and can lead to prosecution. You are not allowed to keep rescued native animals as pets.
Read about Getting involved in wildlife rehabilitation.
Don't directly handle dead flying-foxes.
If 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 and ask them to dispose of it.
In some situations, wildlife carer groups might also be able to give advice or help if they have the resources.
If you can't get help and must handle a dead flying-fox:
- wear thick gloves (e.g. gardening gloves)
- use a shovel if 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 are burying a carcass, bury it at a minimum depth of 15cm to avoid scavengers digging it up.
Any dead flying-foxes which are banded should be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme. If you find a dead banded flying-fox, don't try to read or remove the band yourself. Instead, call your local licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation provider.
What can I do to help flying-fox carers?
Rescuing and rehabilitating flying-foxes can be challenging, especially during seasons when large number of flying-foxes become injured and need care. This can occur seasonally when flying-foxes give birth to their pups and carers may be busy rescuing and hand-rearing any orphaned pups.
There are also emergency situations that mean increased workloads for carers, such as starvation and extreme heat events. During prolonged starvation periods, there may be a dramatic increase in rescues associated with flying-foxes that are weakened by malnourishment and/or trapped in fruit netting. These situations take a physical and emotional toll on carers.
You can help flying-fox carers by donating to buy animal food, equipment and other supplies. Contact a licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation provider to find out how to do this.
Help prevent injury and distress
You can also help flying-fox carers by helping to reduce the causes of flying-fox injury and distress.
- Use wildlife-friendly netting to protect your backyard trees. This can help reduce the chances of flying-foxes becoming trapped in nets.
- If possible, remove barbed-wire and replace with plain wire fencing.
- Don’t undertake activities near flying-fox camps that could disturb the animals (e.g. playing loud music).
- Don’t approach or enter flying-fox camps during periods of extreme heat. This can disturb flying-foxes trying to cope with the heat and cause them to become more distressed and take flight. Taking flight can weaken them further.
Corporate support for flying-fox carers
Rehabilitating any animal can be financially demanding. Corporations can bring enormous relief by helping flying-fox carers obtain various resources, such as food and equipment.
How can your company help?
If your company can help with any of the following resources, please contact us at email@example.com.
- Food: An adult flying-fox may eat as much as 500g of fruit per day. Flying-fox carers typically feed their animals with apples, pears, grapes, rockmelon, mangoes and bananas.
- Protein powder: This is used as a dietary supplement.
- Equipment: This may include fruit dicing machines, permanent or collapsible animal cages, blankets, cage liners, or food and water containers.
- Medications and medical supplies: These may include medications for pain relief, as well as dressings or subcutaneous fluids.
- Veterinary services: This may include a medical examination of an injured flying-fox or euthanasia.
- Vaccinations: All flying-fox carers are required to have received a rabies vaccination to minimise risks of Australian bat lyssavirus infection.
During the 2019-20 summer, more than 70,000 flying-foxes were killed during extreme heat events; many of them died in camps in New South Wales. Thousands of injured animals were taken into care, creating enormous burdens for flying-fox carers.
Saving our Species partnered with Woolworths Supermarkets to provide donations of fruit. This initiative resulted in more than 30 carers from 10 wildlife rehabilitation organisations receiving assistance.
In total, 5,763 kg of produce was donated over four weeks, estimated to be worth more than $17,000.
Woolworths Supermarkets also made gift cards available to flying-fox carers for additional purchases. Collectively, these gift cards amounted to a further donation of $7,500 in NSW, as well as a further $1,700 for flying-fox carers in Victoria.
This initiative helped flying-fox carers rehabilitate and release more than 100 grey-headed flying-foxes. These animals returned to the wild would have otherwise perished if not for flying-fox carers rescuing and rehabilitating them and Saving our Species and Woolworths Supermarkets helping subsidise the costs of rehabilitation.
This case study is featured in Corporate support for threatened species recovery efforts: three case studies from the 2019–20 Australian bushfire season, published in Australian Zoologist.