Could the biggest threat to these unique animals be public perception?
When devastating fires tore through millions of hectares of Australian bushland in 2020, billions of native animals were killed and up to one fifth of Australia’s forests were razed. The memories of Black Summer are still all-too-fresh for many, and the impact of this terrible time in the country’s history continues to this day. With ‘natural’ disasters set to continue, and already-sweltering Aussie summers predicted to become even more extreme, there has never been a more important time to protect flying foxes (also known as fruit bats) — a species that entire ecosystems rely on for survival.
Some species of flying fox have already declined by 95% over the last century. These sensitive animals are particularly susceptible to heat, and unforgiving summers in recent years have led to mass deaths of fruit bats, including babies, who are especially vulnerable during heat events. During a recent heat wave in Melbourne, as many as 15% of an entire colony died of heat stress in only three days.
Flying foxes are one of Australia’s most misunderstood and maligned native animals, and efforts to protect them can be hindered by misinformation and poor public sentiment. Fruit bats are sometimes treated like ‘pests’ in areas where they roost — with hungry animals regularly trapped in dangerous netting around fruit trees, and locals complaining of the sound and smell. Tragically, even after the devastation of the bushfires, the state-based wildlife rescue organisation, Wildlife Victoria, reported a spike in brutality towards flying foxes.
Never before has it been so crucial to protect flying foxes — not only for their sake but for the future of entire ecosystems and the many native animals that rely on them. But in order to change the future for fruit bats, we first need to change the public narrative about these unique Australian animals. Here are five very good reasons to foster compassion and respect for these ‘gardeners of the sky’: