Bats Have Returned - But They Need Help
15-Nov-2012 Filed in: Brisbane
As an apartment-dwelling Brisbanite, it’s always great to see local wildlife returning into the heart of the city. With the arrival of the spring breeding season, there are once again hundreds of flying foxes passing by my building every evening at dusk. I’m dismayed that many people, my wife included, don’t like bats - they find them creepy and somewhat ominous. They are kind of noisy when they squabble, and I admit their musky pheromone smell can be overpowering when they’re close. However, my first apartment here overlooked a small garden on the balcony below, where bats were frequent visitors. The sight of them reminded me that I was now in a tropical country which was a lot more interesting than the sterile wildlife offerings in NZ (in the city, at least) and the total lack of wildlife in the Atacama desert where I’d previously been working. Hence, I fell in love with the little guys almost immediately. Even when I lived in the Brazilian Pantanal I’d never had the convenience of the local wildlife turning up on my doorstep for me to photograph.
Bats in Australia are fundamentally important to the environment. They’re responsible for much of the pollination needed to sustain Australia’s forests. However, sadly, despite the hundreds of bats that we currently see flying around our city in the evenings, their overall numbers are dropping significantly - and they’re now considered as threatened species. Threatened or not (and despite the fact that its usually illegal to kill or harm native Australian wildlife) the Queensland government is now issuing permits allowing fruit growers to cull the local populations by shooting. This is a cruel and inhumane practice, as shotguns scatter their pellets far and wide. Animals will typically be maimed and left to die painfully over a period of days. Even worse, the cull period coincides with the period when mothers are nursing their young - so you kill off two for the price of one, except that the young are also likely to die slowly and painfully through starvation.
The theory goes that shooting is necessary to preserve the local banana, lychee and apple fruit industry, and that shooting is less destructive to the environment than the electric grids that had been used to protect some orchards (in one case, an electrified grid at one orchard killed 18,000 bats over a single season. Other cases are less dramatic but still indiscriminately kill many thousands of animals).
Although I respect the right of farmers to earn a living, there’s an alternative to the wholesale slaughter of entire species. For example - correctly installed netting can protect commercial fruit crops without adversely impacting the local bat populations (so long as the creation of new orchards and farms doesn’t also result in the destruction of natural habitat). The problem is that some fruit growers see this as too hard and too expensive - figuring out that its just easier (and much cheaper) to kill off the native animals with whom they share the land. The good news is that most growers follow the right practices - with only a relative few resorting to irresponsible methods. The problem is that this small number is doing a disproportionate amount of damage.
If you believe in the importance of protecting Australia’s wildlife and protecting our natural heritage then I highly recommend adding your name to the Flying Foxes under Threat in QLD petition, and pay a visit to www.dontshootbats.com for letter templates which can be forwarded to your local representatives.
Banner image: Andrew Mercer
Hanging bat image: Shutterstock
I'm a Business Intelligence and Data Warehousing consultant based in Brisbane, Australia. I've consulted on or managed several large BI systems in New Zealand, Australia and Latin America.
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