Brutal heatwave continues to decimate 'vulnerable' bat population

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer

Australia lost 10 per cent of its grey-headed flying fox population last month, and over the weekend hundreds more died in the extreme heat.

Babies are particularly affected by temperatures which are routinely exceeding 40 degrees this summer.

Like koalas, when it becomes too hot, flying fox babies make their way down from the trees.

They are searching for water and cooler areas.

The forest floor is bone dry and the ground is littered with their corpses.

Many animal rescuers across the country spent their weekend spraying down the babies, desperately trying to save a portion of this year’s offspring.

With most volunteers’ homes already at full capacity with patients, it’s a struggle to take any more bats into care.

The only option is to rehydrate bats and return them to the trees rather than take them into care.

In a dense tropical forest on the NSW Central Coast, two wildlife volunteers work to spray a bat with water.
Rescuers work to save dying baby grey-headed flying foxes. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia

At Wyoming, 53km north of Sydney, volunteers were sent into steep bush with spray bottles to try and cool those falling from the trees.

Dry leaves and branches crack underfoot, the cries of dying bats are deafening.

It’s hard to access the animals as the area is overrun with invasive lantana which is scratching up volunteers from WIRES and Wildlife ARC.

At first it’s hard to see the falling babies, but once you see one, you notice that they’re everywhere.

Those that can still climb are given water and then released. The rescuers place the dying in cages or strap them to their bodies.

The flying foxes were then brought to a makeshift triage area between two suburban houses and injected with fluids.

A baby flying fox undergoing treatment on someone's knee at Wyoming. The knee is soaked in sweat. Medical supplies in the background.
A baby flying fox undergoing treatment in Wyoming. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia
Two dead bats lie on the ground of the forest floor at Wyoming.
Dead flying foxes litter the ground. Source: Michael Dahlstrom / Yahoo News Australia

The sickest and youngest were prioritised while the rest were cooled with wet towels.

Red-faced and soaked in sweat, WIRES volunteer Mandy Mitchell was working to rehydrate the screaming, dying animals as she spoke to Yahoo News Australia.

“We’ve only had one adult (die) so far, we’ve probably got 20 babies so far, but we’ve only just started,” she said.

“We’ve only just started, we’ve only just touched the surface.”

By the day’s end 100 babies had been treated for dehydration at Wyoming alone.

Volunteers overrun with calls and patients

Across the area, calls from concerned homeowners kept phones of rescue groups busy.

A call came through about a baby bat clinging to a clothesline. It was dead on arrival.

Another was picked up stuck in a barbed wire fence. Carers say this is a common occurrence.

A dead flying fox lies dead under water in a damn.
An emaciated flying fox lies dead in a dam after attempting to drink. Source: Jacky Hunt
A gloved hand holds a dead bat above a dam.
A dead bat fished out of a dam last weekend. Source: Jacky Hunt

Further north in Wyong Creek an adult drowned while trying to drink from a dam.

Without bats forests will struggle to recover from fires

The death toll continued to climb with 40 babies found dead further south in Woy Woy that evening.

Rescuers say funds are desperately needed in order to help the bats which are listed as ‘vulnerable’ and Australia’s only long range pollinators.

Without bats, mosts forests will struggle to recover from the bushfires.

The Humane Society International’s Evan Quartermain believes there will be long term impact on the country from the die offs.

“Wildlife carers simply can’t respond to it, it’s too overwhelming,” he said.

“And the flying foxes are basically cooking alive.”

The people pictured tending to flying foxes are registered carers and been vaccinated against Lyssavirus.

Members of the public who encounter sick or injured bats should not handle them, and instead contact a registered wildlife rescue group or vet.

The author Michael Dahlstrom is a registered native bird carer with Wildlife ARC.

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