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Grey-Headed Flying Fox

Grey-Headed Flying Fox SAVE THEM ALL: Today’s Endangered species is an All-Star Pollinator, vulnerable like so many threatened bats around the world. On a trip to Sydney in 2000, we saw these flying foxes streaming out of the Royal Botanic Gardens near the Opera House and spreading across the sky at dusk, an extraordinary vision. Like so many other species in Australia, however, this fruit bat has been demonized by farmers and fruit-growers, angry about decimated crops, and by communities appalled at the commotion and guano deposits around large colonies. Even the Botanic Gardens objected, despite the fact that there was evidence of bats in the area since the 1800s. With bat numbers reaching a high of 22,000 in the Gardens in 2008—causing severe damage to the scientific plant collection and surrounding landscape—it was decided to employ a non-lethal noise-disturbance program to encourage the colony to relocate, something that had been done successfully in Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens. Recorded sounds of chainsaws, hedge trimmers, tractors, and other heavy machinery will be directed at the colony, proven to encourage the bats to move on. For more on the Botanic Gardens’ bat relocation effort, see their Frequently Asked Questions page. Loss of habitat was undoubtedly behind the bats’ recolonization of the Gardens. As forests have fallen to development and agriculture in Australia, the flying fox population, which once numbered in the millions on the continent, has been sharply reduced, perhaps by as much as 30% in the past few decades. Tens of thousands have died during successive heat waves, with 4,000 alone falling out of the trees in Melbourne in February, 2009, a month when 173 people died in the worst bush fires Australia had ever seen. Fortunately, the grey-headed flying fox—an extraordinarily charismatic species—has good friends in Australia. Protected under federal and state law, listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, roosting sites are now legally protected in New South Wales and Queensland. And communities are beginning to see that large colonies may become tourist attractions on their own. A recent cover article by Roy Hunt in Australian Geographic describes how the town of Bellingen—once adamantly opposed to the foxes’ colonization of nearby Bellingen Island Reserve—has, at long last, begun to make a kind of peace with the 80,000 furry specimens in their backyard. Fruit growers have protected their crops with nets, and some residents have warmed to the foxes after seeing intimate photographs taken by wildlife photographer Vivien Jones of mother foxes with their young, known as “littlies” or “jockeys,” who cling to mum’s fur as she flies. To see these images, check out Jones’ website, Flying Foxes on Bellingen Island. The article also recommends a book by Bellingen ecologist Ross Macleay, Nature Culture (North Bank Institute) available on Scribd, a searching examination of the intricate philosophical and physical difficulties of ecological restoration.
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