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12 February, 2021

It should never happen again

THE fear, misinformation and vigilantism perpetrated on the spectacled flying fox species from activities, such as the Cairns Regional Council’s recent dispersal activities, must never be allowed to happen again, scientists and environmental groups say.

By Nicole Gibson

A rescued pup - after being abandoned last year

The Bat and Tree Society of Cairns (BATSOC) are seeking donations to help with the cost of caring for a significant load of orphaned flying foxes and injured adults they say are a result of Cairns Regional Council’s (CRC) now ceased dispersal activities.

While dispersal activities have ceased, deterrent activities including the use of light and noise deterrents continue at the Cairns Library site.

BATSOC secretary and member of Cairns Regional Council’s Flying Fox Advisory Committee, wildlife ecologist Sera Steves said the flow on effects of poor planning such as a lack of community engagement and revegetation activities at intended roost sites were the cause of the problems they were currently experiencing.

“Due to the failure of the engagement with the community and the revegetation of sites for them to move to they have dispersed all over the place and are met with vigilante justice,” Ms Steves said.

“As a result, bats have been harassed and shot at, its increased the problem.

“I can’t really say that this action (the Council dispersal) has saved us the amount of work that’s coming into care because it’s comparable to the year prior however it’s not really centered on the library site.”

Ms Steves said it is “highly illegal” for citizens take dispersal activities into their own hands and they were currently working with State enforcement bodies to address incidents on private properties.

BATSOC has also established a Save Our Spectacled Flying Fox Watch Program asking locals to help locate the dispersed bats.

Rescue underway to save pups abandoned due to dispersal activities - 2020

Division 5 Councillor Amy Eden, who also serves on Council’s Flying Fox Advisory Committee, said while she could speak to the numbers of lives saved in line with the dispersal’s intended purpose such as reduction in building collisions, she was unaware of her fellow committee member’s concerns.

CRC’s Manager of Community Development, Brett Spencer said there had only been about 20 complaints of animals turning up in people’s backyards since the deterrents started.

He said Council had also undertaken an extensive community notification process prior to starting the deterrents, that included advising the public against taking matters into their own hands to deter the animals from their properties.

“There was a range of (notifications) through social media, through our website, through printed material that we distributed to businesses, quite extensive,” he said.

“(It said) if you see an animal don’t touch them, if they turn up at your property report that to us or the State authorities.

“If Council gets any knowledge of people harming the animals we report that directly through to the State regulator,” Mr Spencer said.

Rescued pup

Are Spectacled Flying Foxes Critically Endangered?

This year BATSOC will be working with State and Federal governments and other organisations to have the animals up-listed to critically endangered which they say will make future dispersal activities much more difficult, if not impossible.

Since 2004 their population has declined by about 75 percent - a number which National Flying-Fox Monitoring Program coordinator and respected researcher Dr David Westcott said was borderline for a critically endangered classification.

“They definitely qualified as endangered and were listed as such,” he said.

“They are borderline for critically endangered and you could argue for one or the other – they are very, very close.”

Dr Westcott has spent decades working with the creatures and said to see the animals in this situation was a very sad thing.

“It’s not a happy thing,” he said “For any species they’re part of the (eco-) system, they’re part of our heritage and it’s not a very positive report on our performance as a nation if we don’t look after our natural heritage.”

Saving a Species

BATSOC have established a Spectacled Flying Fox Recovery Team (SFFRT) which will spend the next decade working with all tiers of government, natural resource management organisations and other groups to ensure the species’ survival.

Cairns and Far North Environment Centre Director Lucy Graham said their organisation was also working on protection measures for the animals.

“This year we’re going to be focusing on having the Labor government follow through on their election promise of 2015 to repeal the flying fox code of practice for the ecologically sustainable management of flying fox roosts,” Ms Graham said.

Ms Graham said the laws were currently allowing flying foxes to be dispersed without any kind of impact assessment.

“The government made a commitment to repealing those laws because it acknowledged that they didn’t properly impact assess these activities on the species,” she said.

“Unkept promises are bringing extinction closer.”

 “What we want to see is that there is at least consideration of the species and the impact of dispersal which would require more thorough science and also a consideration of whether or not the species is threatened.”

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