Let's talk about bats

There are plenty of flying foxes around at the moment, feeding from flowering gums and swooping through the night air. You might hear their squeaks and the sound of their wings flapping in the early hours as you lie in bed or encounter the dusting of pollen and bits of broken branches under the trees the morning after.

Flying foxes are native mammals that are vital to the ecological health of our landscapes. They are one of the most important pollinators for native plants and forestry as they disperse pollen and larger seeds over long distances with individuals travelling up to 50km each night.

But why are the called flying foxes if they are bats? Flying foxes are ‘fruit bats’ or more accurately megabats but because they have an elongated snout, they resemble a fox and thus gained the name flying fox. In the north-west, we also have many species of microbats that feed mostly on insects. They provide an important function in our landscape by feeding on enormous amounts of insects per night including agricultural pest species and disease carrying mosquitoes.

Flying foxes and microbats live amongst us, and sometimes can end up trapped or injured after colliding with fences or wires or getting trapped in netting on fruit trees. Often they sustain injuries that require euthanasia. We can help minimise the risk to them by avoiding using barbed wire fencing, particularly on the top strand of fences. Using plain wire on the top strand can save lives – and avoid you ending up with an injured bat stuck in your fence.

Unfortunately for bats, and for people, bats can carry Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV). This is a viral neurological disease that can cause serious disease in humans who are exposed to the virus through contact with infected bats. It’s the main reason why members of the public are advised never to touch a bat, even if it’s deceased. ABLV has been found in both flying foxes and microbats.

Flying foxes can also carry Hendra virus, another serious virus which has caused neurological disease and death in horses. There have been cases of Hendra affected horses infecting humans with the disease. Flying foxes who roost or feed in trees that overhang horse feed troughs and watering points can contaminate the feed and water, leading to infection in horses. There have been no confirmed cases of Hendra virus infection in the North West. There is no treatment for the disease in horses, however there is a horse Hendra virus vaccine available.

If you find an injured or trapped bat, do not touch it, keep children and pets away from it, and call your local wildlife rescue organisation. If you are scratched or bitten by a flying fox or microbat, call your local public health department.

Further information about Flying foxes can be found here.

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