Parkes Shire is currently playing host to colonies of Little Red Flying Foxes, a species of fruit bat, that periodically visit the Parkes region as they travel across Australia in search of food.
While flying foxes generally cause little disturbance in urban areas, Council appreciates that they can have a significant impact on the day to day lives of residents, and that their current abundance in Parkes has caused considerable concern for several locals.
Michael Chambers, Parkes Shire Council’s Environmental and Sustainability Coordinator, said Little Red Flying Foxes are a highly transient species that don’t take up residence in one area permanently.
“As native blossom specialists, they follow eucalyptus flowering events around the eastern states of Australia to find food, and they generally move on to new places when food becomes unavailable, or when temperatures get too hot or cold
“It is important to note that all species of flying foxes are protected under State and Federal laws, making it illegal to capture, harm, or otherwise interfere with any individual or group,” added Mr Chambers.
Council’s Director Infrastructure Andrew Francis said attempts to disburse the Little Red Flying Foxes, such as startling them with loud noises, guns, or fireworks are ineffective.
“Dispersal actions (aside from potentially breaching the law) are often counterproductive because bats rarely respond well, they tend to squawk, urinate, and defecate in response to stress. This results in increased commotion and unpleasant smells, exacerbating an already uncomfortable situation for the residents living in close proximity to them,” said Mr Francis.
While the issue of noise and smell can be particularly challenging, these flying foxes are only expected to remain in the Parkes area in their current large numbers temporarily and for those impacted residents we hope that is not going to be too much longer.
“After seeking expert advice from several NSW Government agencies, Council has been told that they should start to see a drop in numbers soon, as temperatures decrease, food resources become depleted, and large colonies begin to disperse into smaller maternity camps for females to give birth and care for their young,” Mr Francis added.
Council was told that major environmental events, including the severe drought, continued deforestation, and the 2019-2020 bushfires in recent years, have resulted in large-scale habitat loss. These events are likely to have contributed to the high number of flying foxes in Parkes.
Little Red Flying Foxes are social animals that live in colonies, and usually choose to camp in trees that provide reliable shade and are close to a source of water.
“During the day, they congregate to roost in trees before setting out at night to feed on nectar and pollen. Their increased abundance in Parkes is likely because we experienced such a mild summer and winter in 2020, and recent rain has caused local eucalyptus species to flower profusely,” said Mr Chambers.
Council has also been advised and therefore can reassure residents that the spread of viruses from flying foxes to humans is extremely rare. There is virtually no risk of infection unless physical contact is made with a flying fox, and there are no reports of people living close to flying fox camps contracting diseases in NSW. However, to minimise any potential risks, Council recommends residents keep their distance as much as possible and avoid interacting with the flying foxes in any way.
If possible, pets should be kept away from them, although there are no reports of cats or dogs contracting Australian lyssavirus from a flying fox. If a resident encounters a sick or injured animal, they should avoid handling, and contact a licensed wildlife rescue and rehabilitation provider such as WIRES.
Michael Chambers, Council’s Environmental and Sustainability Coordinator said that during the past 30 years populations of flying foxes have seen a dramatic decline in numbers across Australia.
“Flying foxes perform important ecosystem services as they feed by pollinating native vegetation and spreading seeds across large distances. Their role in our environment is vital to the ongoing health and regeneration of our native woodlands and forests. Many of our native plants and animals rely on their pollination and seed dispersal efforts for survival,” Mr Chambers concluded.
Parkes Shire Council will continue to liaise with the affected residents and State agencies about the increased presence of flying foxes in the Parkes area.