Disappearance of Grey-headed flying foxes from Wingham has serious consequences

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Late last year, Wingham Brush suffered a tragic loss of grey-headed flying fox babies. Estimates were that more than 75 per cent, numbering approximately 2000, of this year’s new pups were lost.

Grey-headed flying foxes are a threatened species. Juveniles take two years to mature and when mature, can only produce one pup a year. 

Females generally return to the maternity camp in which they were born to give birth and nuture their own young.

If we lose young, then we lose those returning to reproduce and hence resulting generations as well, leading to a diminishing population.

Losing much of a generation can have serious consequences for the population of the colony, the ecology, and for the tourist economy of Wingham.

There seem to be two camps when it comes to flying foxes – those who love them, and those who consider them ‘dirty, filthy pests’. 

Love them or loathe them, they are native animals that are crucial for Australia’s forest ecologies, and as such need to be protected.

They are long-distance pollinators and seed distributors, performing functions that bees cannot. 

The Sydney Morning Herald recently interviewed Dr Justin Welbergen, president of the Australasian Bat Society and a senior lecturer in animal ecology at the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment, for a story on thousands of bats dropping dead throughout NSW last weekend due to the heatwave.

Dr Welbergen told the Sydney Morning Herald, “These extreme heat events have a very serious impact on the species, and those impacts then reverberate through the Australian forest ecosystems.

"Suddenly if you don't have any flying foxes, then there's no pollen and seed dispersal of plants that are reliant on flying foxes for these services.”

Some communities understand the value of these intelligent little creatures, and are pro-active about helping their colonies.

Last weekend, authorities and volunteers in Canberra and Casino provided life-saving services to their resident flying fox colonies by spraying them with water to help keep them cool and mitigate dehydration. 

If only all communities could be so compassionate and hands-on in helping the threatened species survive.