Community unites to provide ‘apple kebabs’ for starving flying foxes

By Angela Heathcote 26 September 2019
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A lack of food resources in south-east Queensland is resulting in mass deaths of flying-foxes.

A GROUP OF flying-fox lovers have united to provide starving bats with apples as drought, deforestation and fires are depleting food resources.

During wintertime it’s common for food resources for the bats to decrease, however, this season, wildlife carers are reporting mass die-offs from starvation. 

Bats QLD, an organisation based on the Gold Coast, appealed to its Facebook followers in mid-September for people to either donate apples or money for apples. 

“We are receiving numerous calls each day about dead bats found across the Gold Coast that have died from starvation, with many others bats found on the ground barely alive,” they wrote.

The group is encouraging people to put out what they call ‘apple kebabs’, after the starvation crisis has become too big for the organisation to handle. 

“The starvation event has become desperate and seems to be occurring throughout the eastern coast of Australia [from Coffs Harbour to Gladstone],” Bats QLD’s secretary Morné Matthysen told Australian Geographic.

“We had to get members of the public involved to help, or face losing even more lives.

“We have had so many messages on our Facebook page and photos and videos of people hanging kebabs, or bats eating their fruit kebabs. It is extremely heart warming.”

Alongside the appeal, Bats QLD have posted a list of instructions on how to hang the apple kebabs, and how to avoid bat-human interactions.

The apple kebabs, while seemingly effective, have not quelled fears of losing even more bats during the birthing season.

“With most female bats pregnant at the moment – the yearly birthing season is about to start – and mothers are already malnourished and weak, we are expecting a really bad season with many orphans.”

Should we be lending a hand?

“When seeing animals suffer, I think the vast majority of us want to be able to help,” says bat expert and science communicator for the Wilderness Society Micaela Jemison.

“However, these are wild animals, and we do not wish flying foxes to become dependent on or associate humans with food.

“Bats have already been forced to live closer to people as their forest habitat continues to be destroyed. This has sparked a conflict in many cities and towns with residents. 

“As much as possible, we need to reduce the interaction between bats and people.”

But Micaela isn’t against the idea altogether.

“I believe if people are witnessing animals dying on their property, and if they are taking the right precautions then it might be beneficial for the bats for a short time.”

Micaela advises that those who are living in high residential areas, those who don’t usually have bats visit their property or who have dogs or unvaccinated horses should not supply food to the animals.

The food should also be placed high up in the tree, well out of reach for humans or pets. And under no circumstances should anyone touch the bats.

Mass starvation events point to bigger issues 

Many of the forests that the flying foxes rely on for their diet of fruit and nectar have been bulldozed, Micaela says, and this means that bats can’t cope when added pressures are placed on them from bushfires and continuing drought.

“Eastern Australia is now a designated global deforestation hotspot, alongside places like the Amazon, the Congo and Borneo,” Micaela says.

“Much of this deforestation occurs away from the public eye, but its effects are being witnessed now as we see these starving bats dropping from the trees in the towns they have been forced to flee to.

“As a bat scientist, I have come to realise that the greatest power we have to immediately address this extinction crisis, as well as climate change, is to protect our forests.

“Bulldozers destroy 500,000ha of forest and bush every year. Stopping this would be the first step. 

“Flying-foxes are Australia’s canaries in the coalmine. We need to listen and act.”