Responding to heat stress in flying-fox camps

Guidance for licensed wildlife carers responding to heat stress in flying-fox camps.

A recent review found that our current understanding of the effectiveness of intervention methods for reducing flying-fox mortalities during extreme heat events is mainly anecdotal rather than based on scientific studies.

Read A review of intervention methods used to reduce flying-fox mortalities in heat stress events

There is research underway to guide best practice for helping flying-foxes during extreme heat events. Therefore the guidance provided here is likely to change with new findings.

It's important to note that human presence in a camp at such times can increase the stress and activity levels of the flying-foxes and potentially lead to greater harm.

Can we predict heat stress events?

To help wildlife carers and land managers prepare for and respond effectively to flying-fox camps affected by extreme heat events, a team from Western Sydney University and the University of Melbourne have developed the Flying-Fox Heat Stress Forecaster. The forecaster predicts the camps where flying-foxes are likely to experience extreme heat up to 72 hours ahead.

The forecaster is being continually improved by ongoing research.

Read Forecasting wildlife die-offs from extreme heat events.

Guidance

Yes. You need to be licensed to rehabilitate wildlife under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. You may be licensed as an individual or be a current member of a licensed wildlife rehabilitation organisation.

Alternatively, you have a job which lawfully entitles you to intervene in animal welfare issues (e.g. with the council, Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, including National Parks and Wildlife Service, RSPCA or you are a registered veterinarian).

The licence or role must specifically endorse the person or group as being able to care for flying-foxes.

If you are not sure about your coverage under a current licence, contact your local wildlife rehabilitation organisation or, for individual licences, the Wildlife Team at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment.

A licence requirement is that you must be immunised against Australian bat lyssavirus and you will need to source and wear suitable protective equipment and clothing. It is also recommended that you undertake training in handling flying-foxes.

Standards and guidelines

The Code of practice for injured, sick and orphaned protected fauna (PDF 86KB) is designed for those involved in the rescue, rehabilitation and release of native fauna and outlines how they can protect the welfare of the animals in their care. The Code contains both standards and guidelines for the care of native animals that are incapable of fending for themselves in their natural habitat.

Compliance with the standards is a condition of all wildlife rehabilitation licences.

If organisations intend to take action in heat stress events, the Department encourages planning to ensure that the organisation has the resources necessary to meet the standards.

The Department has also produced a series of species-specific codes related to the general code of practice, including a Code of practice for injured sick and orphaned flying-foxes (PDF 86KB). This Code provides details on standards for rescue, transport, euthanasia, care procedures, husbandry, housing and release.

Read more about licensed wildlife rehabilitation organisations.

Access to sites where animals are affected needs to be negotiated with the relevant landholder.

For national parks, contact the State Duty Officer.

For Crown Lands, contact customer service during business hours on 1300 886 235.

For state forests, contact the Forestry Corporation of NSW.

For council-managed land, check the relevant local council website for contact details.

During an extreme heat event, flying-foxes usually occupy the coolest microhabitats available to them at that temperature. Disturbance may move them into less desirable locations.

Take great care to avoid unnecessarily disturbing flying-foxes at this time.

It may not always be possible or appropriate to intervene in such events. Intervention is not mandatory and will depend on the circumstances.

We recommend that wildlife rehabilitation organisations develop an incident response protocol relevant to the local area that can be used by their members when flying-fox camps suffer heat stress.

General health and safety issues must be identified beforehand, and appropriate measures implemented during the event.

Spraying flying-foxes in the camp with water

Spraying by hand may cool highly distressed flying-foxes. However, you must be careful not to disturb other flying-foxes. This can cause them to leave the shelter of relatively cooler microhabitats, increase their body temperature and increase their stress.

Flying-foxes shouldn't be approached if they show any signs they are trying to move away or escape from the sprayer.

Highly heat-stressed flying-foxes that don't respond to spraying should be observed for 15 minutes before spraying again. After a period of observation, they may then be removed from the camp by an experienced wildlife carer for any necessary treatment.

Removing flying-foxes from a camp for treatment

Flying-foxes that are severely affected by an extreme heat event may need intensive cooling and/or rehydration. In some cases, the animal may need to be removed from the camp to a quiet and shady location.

People dealing with flying-foxes must be vaccinated against Australian bat lyssavirus and wear protective clothing. To administer fluid therapy, people must have experience and training.

Not immediately. The Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, specifically National Parks and Wildlife Service, can't give immediate approval to transport injured flying-foxes across state borders for care because of the potential biosecurity and health risks involved.

Authorisation is also required from other interstate agencies to approve the importation of animals.

Getting these approvals takes time and affected animals may need to be tested to establish their health status and any quarantine requirements.

You can contact the Wildlife Team at the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment on 02 9585 6406 to discuss obtaining an import/export licence, if needed. 

The Department is currently working with other state jurisdictions to facilitate cross-state emergency measures for flying-fox rehabilitation in the future.

If injured flying-foxes are moved during an extreme heat event for rehabilitation, they should be released in accordance with the Code of practice for injured, sick and orphaned protected fauna (PDF 86KB) and Code of practice for injured sick and orphaned flying-foxes (PDF 86KB).

After an extreme heat event is over, it's important to collect information that can provide a better understanding of the nature and severity of extreme heat events on flying-foxes, and can contribute to more effective management responses to them.

Information should include the date of the event, the location of the camp, and whether any flying-foxes died. If available, information on the number and species of flying-foxes present in the camp, and the mortality by age class and species is very useful. Information about interventions and how many flying-foxes were taken into care is also very useful.

Monitoring the site in the days following the extreme heat event is important because flying-foxes can show the impacts of heat stress for several days after the event.

When collecting data, volunteers handling dead flying-foxes must be vaccinated against Australian bat lyssavirus (with current titre) and wear personal protective clothing.

Please submit your information using the simple Online Flying-fox Heat Stress Data Form.

Any banded dead flying-foxes should be reported to the Australian Bird and Bat Banding Scheme.