A flying fox hangs upside down, looking at the camera. Fellow flying foxes are in the background out of focus.

Flying foxes: understanding the issues.

Unique, beautiful and vital to keeping our environment flourishing. But Australia's iconic flying foxes are at risk — and that means our native landscape is, too.

Animals Australia

Animals Australia team

Last updated May 28, 2024

Flying foxes are intelligent and remarkable. These unique animals help regenerate our forests and keep ecosystems healthy through pollination and seed dispersal.

They are a migratory and nomadic ‘keystone’ species; meaning a species that many other species of plants and animals rely upon for their survival and wellbeing. Flying foxes, like bees, help drive biodiversity, and faced with the threat of climate change, land clearing, and other human-caused ecological pressures, we need them more than ever.

Flying foxes are bats or, more accurately, mega-bats (big bats). They are commonly known as fruit bats, and their diet is predominately nectar, pollen, and fruit — in that order.

Flying foxes are foresters keeping the eco-system together. If we are to keep the remnants of our forests healthy, we need the flying foxes. The two are inseparable.
Dr Nicki Markus
Chief Conservation Office of Bush Heritage Australia

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A flying fox mother flying with her baby clinging to her body, while other flying foxes are hanging from the tree
Mega bats don't use sonar like smaller, insect-eating bats; only their eyes and ears like us. They have exceptional eyesight and are highly intelligent, social, and sensitive.

Flying fox species are increasingly vulnerable

Of the four mainland species of flying fox – Black, Grey-headed, Spectacled, and Little Red – two species have declined by an estimated 95% in the past century (the Grey-headed flying fox and Spectacled flying fox). Populations of flying foxes across Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria have suffered massive losses over the last 30 years in particular, and tragically, are still in decline.

Some researchers are predicting these incredible animals could be functionally extinct by 2050. Habitat destruction (land clearing), disturbance of their camps or colonies, starvation, increased heat events, and human-made hazards like power lines, barbed wire and backyard fruit tree netting, are all playing a part in their painful struggle.

A shot in the dark

For decades, flying foxes have sadly been shot to keep them from fruit trees — even though viable alternatives have existed. It is now illegal across Australia to shoot bats for crop protection (with a phase-out period underway in Queensland).

New South Wales stopped the shooting of bats for crop protection in 2021, and the Queensland government has commenced a phase-out. Despite the dramatic decline in numbers of both Grey-headed and Spectacled flying foxes, the Queensland government will continue to issue permits to fruit producers to kill flying foxes until 2026, albeit at reduced numbers – to give them ‘time to adjust’ to non-lethal crop protection measures.

This image contains content which some may find confronting

A flying fox mother with her babies hanging upside down from a tree branch
A tiny golden-furred flying fox baby clings to their mother's side.

Tragically, shooting flying foxes is not only ineffective, but raises severe cruelty issues. Many animals who are shot are only wounded, and slowly die over days from infection and dehydration. The situation is compounded when a female is shot with a pup. The result is often that she and her baby perish slowly.

There is a wide range of more ethical methods of crop protection available to orchardists that are very effective and kinder alternatives to shooting. Nets are an option, but it is important to note that not all nets are created equal…

The net closes in

Flying foxes live together in large colonies and fly out every night in search of food. Native flowering eucalypts are the natural food source of flying foxes, and these trees will be visited by bats foraging for nectar. Flying foxes are not just feeding during this time, but performing a crucial role of pollinating native forests and spreading seeds, ensuring the longevity of Australia’s forests.

As their natural habitat and food sources shrink, many flying fox roosts are becoming surrounded by urban areas and it is here that they encounter one of the biggest threats to their welfare and survival: backyard fruit tree netting. Backyard fruit trees can be a nourishing source of food for bats, but venturing into backyards is unfortunately proving deadly.

Unsafe netting entraps and kills thousands of flying foxes each year. Entangled flying foxes commonly suffer from heat exhaustion, exposure, and dehydration and many will die from their entanglement if not rescued. Wing membrane damage will affect almost all bats entangled in fruit tree netting, and can lead to a tragic outcome if they don’t heal adequately to support their return to the wild. When lactating females are caught in backyard fruit tree nets, their pups will consequently be killed too, as they are unable to return to the colony where their young are often left waiting for them.

Each year, volunteer wildlife rescuers respond to thousands of bat entanglements along the East coast of Australia. This endless stream of rescues and rehabilitation work is a huge and unnecessary burden on wildlife volunteers, and on the national population of flying foxes, some of them already threatened species. For those who aren’t so lucky to be rescued, they may be trapped in netting and injured for days. Bones can be broken, delicate membranes damaged, and mouths torn in their desperate efforts to escape. They are frequently found dead.

The good news is that legislation is slowly shifting in the right direction, and in the meantime, you can help end this preventable cruelty starting today…

Choosing safer netting

Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory have made the use of unsafe netting illegal – and there is hope that Queensland, New South Wales, and South Australia, will soon follow with this compassionate decision (more on this below!).

The kindest option for wildlife is to share trees and fruit with them – after all, this is their homeland too. However, if netting must be used, wildlife-safe netting is available, and many large netting and hardware retailers are already selling it including Fruitsaver, Fruit-sock, Hailguard and Coolaroo.

Watch this video to learn more about wildlife-friendly netting. You cannot poke your finger through safer netting — the holes are too small. Any netting you CAN'T poke your finger through is considered safer for flying foxes and other animals.

Most commercial fruit growers already net orchards safely and do not shoot flying foxes. However, it would be sensible for state or federal governments to provide netting subsidies to some growers to encourage the protection of these vital species.

What you can do to help flying foxes

  • Call for wildlife-friendly netting regulation – Email or write to the Environment Ministers in QLD, NSW, and SA urging them to follow the lead of Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory in only premitting wildlife-safe netting to be legally installed over backyard fruit trees.
    • NSW Minister for Environment and Heritage, the Hon. Penny Sharpe
    • QLD Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef , the Hon. Leanne Linard
      • Email: environment@ministerial.qld.gov.au
      • Address: GPO Box 5078
        BRISBANE QLD 4001
      • Phone: (07) 3719 7330
    • SA Minister for Environment and Water, the Hon. Dr. Susan Close
      • Email: OfficeOfTheDeputyPremier@sa.gov.au
      • Address: GPO Box 11071
        Adelaide SA 5001
      • Phone: (08) 8226 8520
  • Check out our guide on three simple but powerful ways you can help flying foxes.