Cairns plan for flying foxes just batty

April 11, 2014

In heritage-listed trees around Cairns’ main library, a colony of flying foxes has lived and bred for 30 years.

As evening sets in, thousands of fruit bats fly out across the city and Trinity Inlet in search of food. Tourists look up in wonder at this wildlife event in the heart of a city.

Fruit bats, or spectacled flying foxes, have been listed as vulnerable due to a decline in overall numbers.

But the local council, backed by the state Liberal-National government and supported by businesses such as the resort hotel on the far side of the colony’s trees, has decided to disperse the bat colony.

Noise-making machines are to be brought in and the trees trimmed to 10 metres high, if not cut down altogether.

The experience of trying to disperse bat colonies is fraught.

A colony tends to break up into two or more which, typically, resettle only hundreds of metres away from the original roost. The rest of the centre of Cairns offers likely locations for parts of the colony to roost next.

Costs also tend to skyrocket. More than $60,000, primarily from local council funds, has been allocated for the colony’s removal. Efforts elsewhere to move on flying foxes have cost up to $3 million.

The media have sensationalised negative reports about flying foxes transmitting diseases that are dangerous to humans.

In fact, lyssavirus is rare in bats and preventable in humans, by avoiding handling them or washing and using antiseptics on wounds. The Hendra virus is associated with bats that live near horses, through which it can then be transmitted to humans, but no horses live near the city centre bat colony.

Local activists and supporters have proposed instead that the educational and tourism value of the colony should be harnessed, with signage, observational platforms and benches, covered walkways and parking for protection from bat droppings.

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