Flying foxes found dead and emaciated across eastern Australia as dry weather bites

Lisa Cox
Vets say conditions have led to a ‘starvation event’, killing creatures or leaving them ‘looking like they’ve been mummified’. Flying foxes, including threatened species, have been dying or taken into care in large numbers due to a food shortage in their habitat in eastern Australia. Authorities in Queensland and New South Wales say there have been increased reports since September of sick and dead flying-foxes in an area stretching from northern NSW up to Gladstone in Queensland. Many of the animals found on the ground have been highly emaciated and dehydrated. Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science said flying foxes in trees had been exhibiting behaviours consistent with malnourishment, such as remaining in food trees instead of returning to their normal roost areas during the day. The two main species affected are the grey-headed flying fox – a threatened species listed as vulnerable under Australian environment laws – and the black flying fox. Carers and experts believe the cause is the prolonged dry conditions in eastern Australia, which has reduced the availability of food sources such as tree blossom. Land clearing and development in flying-fox habitat also reduces the availability of food, but the pattern of prolonged warm and dry weather, as well as recent bushfires, has exacerbated the situation. Tania Bishop, a wildlife veterinarian based in Queensland who has worked with flying foxes for 20 years, said the impact of dry winds and low humidity on the animals had led to what vets and carers were calling a “starvation event”. “I haven’t ever seen the degree of emaciation and animals in as bad condition as I have this year,” Bishop said. “The most shocking picture I’ve taken away from the last couple of weeks is a lot of animals that have come in looking like they’ve been mummified, that’s how dehydrated they were.” Bishop said carers were taking in a disproportionate number of female flying foxes of breeding age during what would normally have been breeding season. “They should be well and truly into their pregnancy by now and they’re either not pregnant or they come in so thin they ultimately lose their babies,” she said. She said the baby animals that had been born were incredibly underweight. “The very frightening thing about the grey-headed flying fox being affected is that their status is already threatened,” she said. “The concern is what has this done to the already vulnerable status of the species?” Evan Quartermain, the Australian head of programs for Humane Society International, said carers and vets working on the ground to assist the flying foxes would need support. “With so many animals in need of care already and a high likelihood that heat-stress events will hit bats again this summer, it’s imperative that authorities roll out all the support they can for volunteer wildlife carers bearing the brunt of this crisis,” he said. A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said the total impact on flying-fox populations was difficult to estimate accurately, but it was being closely monitored by the department, the CSIRO, local governments and wildlife carers. He said the government strongly advised members of the public not to touch flying foxes, even if they appeared to be dead, as it was easy to be bitten or scratched when trying to help or move the animals. “A small portion of flying-foxes carry a virus (the Australian bat lyssavirus) which can be transmitted to humans through contact with saliva or blood from the animals,” he said. The spokesman said anyone who spots a sick or injured flying fox should call the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) to report it and a vaccinated carer will be contacted to rescue and care for the animal. A spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said there had been reports of animals roosting in residential areas rather than returning to their usual camps. “Throughout October there have been reports of malnourished and dead flying foxes in south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW. This is occurring as a result of a food shortage, which is attributed to unfavourable weather conditions impacting the availability of nectar,” she said.

Flying foxes, including threatened species, have been dying or taken into care in large numbers due to a food shortage in their habitat in eastern Australia.

Authorities in Queensland and New South Wales say there have been increased reports since September of sick and dead flying-foxes in an area stretching from northern NSW up to Gladstone in Queensland.

Many of the animals found on the ground have been highly emaciated and dehydrated.

Queensland’s Department of Environment and Science said flying foxes in trees had been exhibiting behaviours consistent with malnourishment, such as remaining in food trees instead of returning to their normal roost areas during the day.

Related: Bilbies returned to national park in south-west NSW after 100-year absence

The two main species affected are the grey-headed flying fox – a threatened species listed as vulnerable under Australian environment laws – and the black flying fox.

Carers and experts believe the cause is the prolonged dry conditions in eastern Australia, which has reduced the availability of food sources such as tree blossom.

Land clearing and development in flying-fox habitat also reduces the availability of food, but the pattern of prolonged warm and dry weather, as well as recent bushfires, has exacerbated the situation.

Tania Bishop, a wildlife veterinarian based in Queensland who has worked with flying foxes for 20 years, said the impact of dry winds and low humidity on the animals had led to what vets and carers were calling a “starvation event”.

“I haven’t ever seen the degree of emaciation and animals in as bad condition as I have this year,” Bishop said.

“The most shocking picture I’ve taken away from the last couple of weeks is a lot of animals that have come in looking like they’ve been mummified, that’s how dehydrated they were.”

Bishop said carers were taking in a disproportionate number of female flying foxes of breeding age during what would normally have been breeding season.

“They should be well and truly into their pregnancy by now and they’re either not pregnant or they come in so thin they ultimately lose their babies,” she said.

She said the baby animals that had been born were incredibly underweight.

“The very frightening thing about the grey-headed flying fox being affected is that their status is already threatened,” she said.

“The concern is what has this done to the already vulnerable status of the species?”

Evan Quartermain, the Australian head of programs for Humane Society International, said carers and vets working on the ground to assist the flying foxes would need support.

“With so many animals in need of care already and a high likelihood that heat-stress events will hit bats again this summer, it’s imperative that authorities roll out all the support they can for volunteer wildlife carers bearing the brunt of this crisis,” he said.

A spokesman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said the total impact on flying-fox populations was difficult to estimate accurately, but it was being closely monitored by the department, the CSIRO, local governments and wildlife carers.

He said the government strongly advised members of the public not to touch flying foxes, even if they appeared to be dead, as it was easy to be bitten or scratched when trying to help or move the animals.

“A small portion of flying-foxes carry a virus (the Australian bat lyssavirus) which can be transmitted to humans through contact with saliva or blood from the animals,” he said.

Related: Queensland flying fox species decimated by record heatwave

The spokesman said anyone who spots a sick or injured flying fox should call the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625) to report it and a vaccinated carer will be contacted to rescue and care for the animal.

A spokeswoman for the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment said there had been reports of animals roosting in residential areas rather than returning to their usual camps.

“Throughout October there have been reports of malnourished and dead flying foxes in south-eastern Queensland and northern NSW. This is occurring as a result of a food shortage, which is attributed to unfavourable weather conditions impacting the availability of nectar,” she said.






  • China expels Wall Street Journal reporters over 'racist' headline
    News
    AFP News

    China expels Wall Street Journal reporters over 'racist' headline

    China on Wednesday ordered three reporters from The Wall Street Journal to leave the country over what Beijing deemed a racist headline, in one of the harshest moves against foreign media in years. The expulsion came as Beijing also slammed Washington's decision to tighten rules on Chinese state

  • Global markets higher on hopes virus impact will be short-lived
    News
    AFP News

    Global markets higher on hopes virus impact will be short-lived

    World stock markets rose on Wednesday, buoyed by investors' hopes that the deadly coronavirus will have only a short-term impact on corporate earnings and economic growth. Stock prices on Wall Street were firmer across the board, providing additional momentum to gains already notched up by Europe

  • EU seeks 'responsible' AI to dispel Big Brother fears
    News
    AFP News

    EU seeks 'responsible' AI to dispel Big Brother fears

    The EU unveiled its strategy for artificial intelligence on Wednesday as it seeks to catch up with China and the US and dispel fears of Big Brother-like control. The EU said building trust would be a guiding principle, with higher-risk uses of AI in health, security or transport facing stricter demands

  • Wikileaks' Assange in court ahead of U.S. extradition hearing next week
    News
    Reuters

    Wikileaks' Assange in court ahead of U.S. extradition hearing next week

    WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange appeared in a British court by videolink from prison on Wednesday where lawyers discussed the timetable of his hearing next week to decide whether he should be extradited to the United States. Assange, 48, who spent seven years holed up in Ecuador's embassy before

  • Russia warns against Turkey operation in Syria
    News
    AFP News

    Russia warns against Turkey operation in Syria

    Turkey and Russia exchanged warnings on Wednesday after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened an "imminent" operation in Syria to end the regime's brutal assault on the last rebel enclave. The UN envoy to Syria warned the war-torn country was facing "an imminent danger of further

  • London is the world's best destination for 5-star hotels, according to Forbes
    News
    AFP Relax

    London is the world's best destination for 5-star hotels, according to Forbes

    The Connaught, the Berkeley, the Laneborough... The British capital has no less than 19 hotels that have been awarded five stars by the highly respected Forbes Travel Guide. Forbes has just published its 62nd list of award winning hotels and restaurants. Both a directory and a ranking system, the Forbes

  • UN envoy warns of 'imminent danger' of escalation in Syria
    News
    AFP News

    UN envoy warns of 'imminent danger' of escalation in Syria

    The UN envoy to Syria said Wednesday that the country was on the brink of worsening violence after an exchange of threats between key players Turkey and Russia. Syrian aid workers have called for an urgent ceasefire and international help for nearly a million people fleeing the regime's onslaught

  • Critics slam UK post-Brexit immigration plans
    News
    AFP News

    Critics slam UK post-Brexit immigration plans

    Britain's government on Wednesday faced a backlash over its new post-Brexit immigration plans, which are designed to cut "cheap labour from Europe" in favour of high-skilled English speakers and boosting the homegrown workforce. Critics of the proposed points-based system, due to start

  • Tranquil Thailand's gun culture in spotlight after shooting sprees
    News
    Reuters

    Tranquil Thailand's gun culture in spotlight after shooting sprees

    Normally serene Thailand has been on edge since a rogue soldier went on the rampage in a northeastern city this month, killing 29 people in a shooting spree that ended in a standoff with police at a shopping mall. Ten days later, a man walked into a clinic in a busy Bangkok shopping mall and gunned

  • Pompeo in Saudi Arabia to talk Iran, economy and human rights
    News
    Reuters

    Pompeo in Saudi Arabia to talk Iran, economy and human rights

    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to discuss regional security, namely Iran, after the U.S. killing last month of a top Iranian general pushed the oil-producing region closer to an all-out war. In meetings with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman over

  • Jaguar Land Rover's 'autonomy-ready' urban transport EV could hit streets next year
    News
    AFP Relax

    Jaguar Land Rover's 'autonomy-ready' urban transport EV could hit streets next year

    On Tuesday, Jaguar Land Rover unveiled Project Vector, a four-meter-long electric concept vehicle designed to autonomously transport people, goods, and services around the urban mobility network of the future. As the urban public turns more frequently towards shared mobility options as a means of daily

  • Saudi jet 'downing' in Yemen stirs alarm over Huthi weaponry
    News
    AFP News

    Saudi jet 'downing' in Yemen stirs alarm over Huthi weaponry

    Claims that Yemeni rebels shot down a Saudi warplane have spotlighted the increasingly potent Huthi arsenal -- cause for alarm in Riyadh as fighting escalates amid faltering efforts to end the five-year conflict. The Iran-backed Huthi rebels said they downed the Tornado aircraft on Friday over the volatile

  • Violinist plays during brain op as surgeons test her dexterity
    News
    AFP News

    Violinist plays during brain op as surgeons test her dexterity

    A violinist helped surgeons avoid damage to her brain during surgery to remove a tumour by playing her instrument, the UK hospital where she underwent the innovative procedure said. Surgeons came up with the novel approach to ensure that areas of Dagmar Turner's brain responsible for intricate hand

  • Muted reaction to Afghan poll result despite warlord's rallying cry
    News
    AFP News

    Muted reaction to Afghan poll result despite warlord's rallying cry

    Afghanistan's former vice president Abdul Rashid Dostum, a powerful warlord who has long held undue sway over the country's politics, called on his supporters Wednesday to take to the streets to protest against the re-election of President Ashraf Ghani. Ghani on Tuesday was declared winner of

  • All eyes on Renzi as fate of Italian governmnt hangs in balance
    News
    Reuters

    All eyes on Renzi as fate of Italian governmnt hangs in balance

    The fate of Italy's six-month-old government hung in the balance on Thursday, with former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi expected to spell out later in the day his conditions for remaining within the ruling coalition. Renzi heads the small Italia Viva party, which has minimal backing in the opinion

  • Merkel predicts 'very tough' EU budget summit
    News
    AFP News

    Merkel predicts 'very tough' EU budget summit

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that talks to set the European Union's budget for the coming seven years will be "very difficult" at an extraordinary summit beginning Thursday. Germany and Finland belong to the circle of mainly northern European EU members that pay more

  • Speed science: The risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research
    News
    Reuters

    Speed science: The risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research

    One scientific post suggests links between the new coronavirus and AIDS, a second says it may have passed to people via snakes, while a third claims it is a pathogen from outer space. The emergence in China of a new human coronavirus that is causing an epidemic of flu-like disease has sparked a parallel

  • 80-year-old U.S. couple smiles through virus quarantine in Japan
    News
    Reuters

    80-year-old U.S. couple smiles through virus quarantine in Japan

    Two elderly American passengers, quarantined in Japan with the new coronavirus, learned on Wednesday they were still carrying the virus even after their expected quarantine period had ended. Clyde and Renee Smith, both 80, were separated from their grandsons and taken off the Diamond Princess cruise

  • Russia raises eyebrows with blanket ban on Chinese visitors
    News
    AFP News

    Russia raises eyebrows with blanket ban on Chinese visitors

    Moscow is to impose a blanket ban on Chinese visitors over coronavirus fears in a move that will hit its tourism industry as experts question the need for such "draconian" measures. Moscow will ban all Chinese citizens from entering its territory from Thursday. It has already halted visa-free

  • German conservative big guns rally behind Merkel
    News

    German conservative big guns rally behind Merkel

    A powerful caucus of German conservatives wants Angela Merkel to stay on until her term ends in October 2021, dismissing calls for her to step down sooner and hand power to the next leader of her Christian Democrat (CDU) party. The succession debate was blown wide open last week, when CDU leader Annegret

  • Iran defends barring of candidates as campaign ends
    News
    AFP News

    Iran defends barring of candidates as campaign ends

    Iran's electoral watchdog on Wednesday defended its decision to disqualify thousands of candidates for a crucial parliamentary election in two days, as a lacklustre campaign neared its end. Conservatives are expected to make an overwhelming resurgence in Friday's vote, which comes after months

  • IMF warns China virus hitting a fragile global economy
    News
    AFP News

    IMF warns China virus hitting a fragile global economy

    In the best-case scenario, the economic hit from the epidemic in China will be short-lived, but it comes as the global economy remains fragile, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva said Wednesday. The coronavirus "is our most pressing uncertainty... It is a stark reminder of how a fragile recovery could

  • Libya's UN-recognised government withdraws from Geneva talks
    News
    AFP News

    Libya's UN-recognised government withdraws from Geneva talks

    Libya's unity government has announced it is halting its participation in UN talks aimed at brokering a lasting ceasefire in the war-torn country where a fragile truce has been repeatedly violated. The pull-out came after a barrage of rocket fire hit a port in the capital Tripoli -- the target of

  • Probe into 1986 Swedish PM murder nearing its end: prosecutor
    News
    AFP News

    Probe into 1986 Swedish PM murder nearing its end: prosecutor

    The investigation into the unsolved 1986 murder of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme will wrap up within months, the prosecutor in charge said Wednesday, signalling the last phase of a mystery that has gripped the country for decades. Prosecutors will "either press charges or close the investigation

  • Ethiopia's once-dominant political party marks anniversary
    News
    AFP News

    Ethiopia's once-dominant political party marks anniversary

    The political party that dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly three decades staged massive anniversary celebrations Wednesday that highlighted rising tensions with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government and neighbouring Eritrea. The Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) led the overthrow