15 May Catastrophic Heat Stress Affecting Flying Foxes
In December 2019 I was called on to monitor the flying fox camp at Blackalls Park where some 5,000 or more grey headed and a few black headed flying foxes called home among swamp land. It was also a birthing colony, so we had hundreds of babies there as well. The day was a terrible 45 degrees. I had watched over the camp from 10:00 am that morning. I was around back of the camp when a call came through that a member of the public had seen a flying fox fall to the ground. I drove to where it was reported and to my horror, I saw them all dropping by the hundreds.
I called in an SOS to my team who were all close by. We had began spraying the colony from around 12:00 noon but the heat had risen so high they could no longer hang on and started to fall. On my first assessment I found 34 babies on the ground all cling to one another, it was heartbreaking. There were dead or heat stressed adults everywhere. My team of 8 began the awful task of bringing in what we could to the staging area were we had set up our first aid tables and we started first to cool their body temperature down and then started to rehydrating them with sub cut fluids. Within 30 minutes we had over two hundred flying foxes at our staging area needing attention. One team rescued, another team sprayed while the third team were at the staging area assessing and hydrating animals in need. This was a huge task.
To my delight members of the public started stopping and assisting us carers and rescuers by bringing cool drinks, sandwiches and water. Some sat for hours spraying the babies in the baskets to keep them cool. These people were wonderful and so appreciated.
A heat stress event with flying foxes happens so fast, we had everything thing in place that day but still could not fully stop it. Mist sprays must be fitted in all flying fox camps if we are to provide the best welfare for these most important creatures.
That day we lost over 2,350 adult and 189 baby flying foxes. We rescued and brought in to care over 84 babies. We worked through to dark that day and left heartbroken and the deaths we witnessed, measuring weighing and sexing these dead animals took a huge toll on my team. We were back the next morning at 8:00am to check on them and rescued another 20 babies by 12:00 noon. We had two more heat stress events at that colony in December 2019 and January 2020. With numbers over 5,000 in early December 2019 by February 2020 we now only have 145 flying foxes left in the Blackalls Park colony…Heartbreaking
Disaster Coordinator, Team Leader, Audrey Koosmen