Australia and the Fruit Bats – A Love-Hate Affair | Global Ideas | DW

The term “flying fox hurricane” first appeared in a BBC report from Australia earlier this year. Other media have taken over the word creation. Because in the small town of Ingham in the northeastern state of Queensland, the population of fruit bats has actually exploded in the past two years. Residents are increasingly disturbed by the noise and the stench of the animals.

Ingham is not the only one affected. Complaints also come from other Australian communities that have long had large flying fox camps. With “camps” are meant places for animals to rest, where they relax during the day near looking for food at night.

Justin Taylor says, “When they fly near them, it seems like a thunderstorm is coming suddenly. One after the other, and once dusk starts, there are suddenly thousands.” She works as a saleswoman near Grafton, a town in New South Wales. More than 100,000 fruit bats sometimes live here at the same time.

Foxes fly as transmitters of viruses

The noise of many animals is deafening. It smells like urine everywhere. In addition, fruit bats are carriers of many pathogens: for example, they spread the Lyssa virus, which can lead to rabies, or the Hendra virus, which causes severe disease in humans.

Fruit bat cave camp

The Australian Department of Health confirms that fruit bats pose only a low health risk to humans. But the idea that animals transmit disease did not help her image.

“I’ve always been afraid of them and every time I hope they settle into someone else’s garden,” Taylor says. “They are screaming and making these annoying noises, you can’t sleep. You can hear it even during the day when you’re in the river.”

Trees and Water: Seekers of Transits

Four species of fruit bats live on mainland Australia, two of which are protected. It mainly feeds on nectar, pollen or fruits. Their wings can reach distances of up to 1.50 meters.

Flying fox camps are often compared to train stations where flocks of animals fly in and out every day. In one night, the animals travel up to 50 kilometers in search of food. They can do 1000 kilometers in one season.

To avoid dehydration, fruit bats need to be drunk regularly. They only consume small amounts of fluid so as not to complicate their journey with the extra weight. The Susan Islands, an island in the Clarence River near the town of Grafton, has become a meeting place for animals.

Natural habitats disappear

But climate change and deforestation are making fruit-bat routes more and more unpredictable. As their habitat dwindles and water sources dry up, they resort to cities and their suburbs. “They are being pushed into areas where they wouldn’t normally be,” says Tim Pearson, a conservationist at the University of California. Sydney Bates Environmental OrganizationCommitted to protecting fruit bats.

Overall, the number of flying foxes has decreased across the country, but some cities are seeing a real influx of animals.

First funnel, then heat death

Extremely high temperatures have killed thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of fruit bats at once in recent years. The drought-stricken animals simply fell dead from the trees.

That year, Australia experienced the warmest November on record. Temperatures rose to 40 degrees Celsius in some areas. In cities and suburbs, where they are not protected by dense forests, fruit bats are completely exposed to the heat.

“The latest catastrophe for animals is massive deforestation,” said Matt Brennan, Chief of Operations for Tasmania. Wild Environment Organization Association. “Eastern Australia has become a global hotspot of deforestation, along with places like the Amazon, the Congo and Borneo.”

Emergency aid for fruit bats

Some cities are trying to help fruit bats. Yarra City Council in Melbourne has installed sprinkler systems where fruit bats live in huge colonies on the Yarra River. It is assumed that water cools the animals.

The trees are being planted on Sydney’s Parramatta River with support from New South Wales state authorities. These should provide the fruit bat with new habitat and shade at the same time.

But the ideas aren’t always really good. For example, spray water can scare away exhausted animals and increase their stress levels even more, Pearson says. Ultimately, it is not a substitute for preserving forests, where fruit bats are naturally at home, if one now modifies the urban environment for them. “You can plant trees to give the fruit bats more habitat,” Pearson said. “But the real problems are climate change and ongoing deforestation.”

Foxes and flying forests need each other

On the one hand, fruit bats suffer from deforestation. On the other hand, trees and plants suffer from the fact that fruit bats no longer appear in some areas. Because fruit bats are important for pollination. They stick their heads with flowers to feed on nectar. They eat the fruit and take out the seeds again. In this way, they assist in the reproduction of eucalyptus, tea trees, bank trees, and many other trees and shrubs in the rainforests.

Pearson warns that if climate change is not addressed and deforestation is stopped, the number of Australian fruit bats will decrease so much over the next few decades that they will not be able to fulfill this vital task.

“I think they will live in some areas along the coast where there is food and water,” he says. “But then they will not be the pollinators and seed dispersers that are so important to the survival of our forests.”

Learn to love

Wherever he can, Pearson defends the Fruit Bat. Study their voices carefully. The conservationist says the religion people complained about was, in fact, an advanced means of communication for a very intelligent and social type.

An animal rights activist holds a fruit bat in his hand

Only touch “baby gloves” – a flying fox in a rescue station

Pearson wants the public to stop viewing fruit bats as an intruder that transmits disease. Instead, he wants them to be seen as extraordinary animals. “Only if we educate people and make them aware of how important fruit bats are to the health of an ecosystem, then maybe we can save the animals.”

Sometimes people travel to Grafton to see fruit bats as they forage for food at night.

“Since I noticed that people from all over Australia come here to see fruit bats out of curiosity, I have also seen them with different eyes,” Justin Taylor says. “People are walking around to the island to see them – I think fruit bats are kind of cute,” she admits.

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