SO we have bats. It’s nothing to go bats about. If you look up into the trees in Machattie Park during the day, you can see them hanging by their back legs, wings folded up to their chins like little blankets.
Many of the females will be concealing pups under those wings (they generally give birth in October and November). The pups hang on for dear life as their mothers take off to go foraging for food.
The bats move from place to place in giant camps, heading out at night to feed, returning to cool trees to sleep through the day.
We’ve always had little red flying foxes, but the presence of grey-headed flying foxes was not known in Bathurst until recent years. I remember their arrival into the trees down by the river just past the sewage treatment plant back in March 2010, and people remarking on how strange it was to see them.
So why are they here? For the same reasons ibis have moved into Sydney to pick through public bins: humans have destroyed their natural habitat. They’re now forced to eke out a living in increasingly urban environments.
This time they’ve eschewed the river bank (where the water is very low at the moment) in favour of the cool, leafy environment of our premier city park.
There are two concerns about having them in the park: they’ll transmit deadly viruses and they’ll wreck our trees.
We do need to be concerned and watchful, but we also need to cut them some slack.
As natural pollinators and seed dispersers, they’re an essential part of the cycle of life on the east coast of this continent. It may seem like there’s a lot of them, but they’re actually classified as “vulnerable” to extinction.
According to the Office of Environment and Heritage, it’s only through direct handling - being scratched or bitten - that you are at risk of catching lyssavirus from grey-headed flying foxes. The virus is not spread through droppings or urine.
As for damaging trees: it can certainly happen eventually, especially if the camp becomes permanent. But so far they’ve been FIFOs – fly in, fly out. We can expect them to move on once they’ve run out of the abundance of nectar and pollen that probably attracted them after pre-Christmas rains.
The best solution to their sometimes overwhelming appearances in urban areas is to give them the thing they need most: adequate habitat in non-urban or “low conflict” areas. In the meantime, their presence in Bathurst is an opportunity for curiosity, not hostility.