Flying fox heat wave death toll could be as high as 5000

Large numbers of flying foxes were found dead in Casino after three scorching hot days. WIRES took to the streets to care for the orphaned baby bats.
Large numbers of flying foxes were found dead in Casino after three scorching hot days. WIRES took to the streets to care for the orphaned baby bats. Marc Stapelberg

THE flying fox death toll at Casino has been revised upwards to more than 3000 and could be as high as 5000, WIRES Northern Rivers estimates.

Temperatures hit record highs at Casino over the weekend, hitting 44.1°C on Saturday afternoon, preliminary statistics from the Bureay of Meteorology reveal.

>> Residents have been urged not to try and personally help any distressed flying foxes they find because of the risk of lyssavirus infection from bites or scratches. Parents and teachers have been warned to remain especially vigilant of children who might want to help the flying foxes. If you find a distressed flying fox, phone WIRES Northern Rivers on 6628 1898 or Richmond Valley Council on 6660 0300. 

The high temperatures proved to be deadly for flying foxes in the colony, coming just weeks after the birthing season, WIRES Incident Manager Katy Stewart said.

The baby bats or "pups", between two and four weeks old, were still suckling their mothers, she said.

If it gets hot, bats need humidity to keep them cool, but this was missing on the weekend.

For the adult females, feeding their babies at this time just added to their stress.

"It was so hot so early in the season," Ms Stewart said.

WIRES started monitoring the colony early on Saturday, but as the temperature rose and the humidity fell, the flying foxes started to die.

About 1pm flying foxes started falling out of the trees; many were dead before they hit the ground.

The WIRES ground crew of volunteers gave the babies a hydrating injection before being transported to makeshift hospitals in homes in Casino, managing to save about 450 baby flying foxes or "pups".

Emergency WIRES teams from neighbouring regions arrived in Casino to help deal with the catastrophe. The pups will be reared by WIRES carers before being released back into the wild.

Ms Stewart said it was not uncommon for between 10 and 30 flying foxes to die from heat stress on very hot days, but the massive scale of deaths at Casino was something completely different.

Bats continued to die over the weekend and into yesterday. Only then did the drop in temperatures put an end to what could have been an even greater catastrophe.

Estimates of the potential death toll ranged from 3000 to 5000.

Council crews are continuing to collect dead bats from the banks of the Richmond River and around Hickey and Barker streets. 


However, Richmond Valley Council general manager John Walker said has warned there were some places council workers could not get to.

"Some areas along the riverbank are inaccessible and the stench from the rotting carcasses will be quite unbearable for some time yet," Mr Walker said.

"People should avoid the area and not try to help living bats themselves as they could bite and scratch and some carry the lyssa virus."

Parents and teachers needed to be especially vigilant to ensure children remained safe. Council crews were having difficulty accessing some areas of the riverbank and this will slow the clean-up.

"Whatever anyone's opinion is either side of the bat debate, no-one wishes this sort of tragedy on the bats," Mr Walker said.

Well, maybe not no-one.

Comments on The Northern Star's Facebook page suggest there are some Casino residents who welcomed the deaths as a solution to the town's flying fox 'problem'.

"Well that's 2000 less flying around casino public school," one person commented.

"Such a shame there are still a billion left of the smelly pests!!!!!!!" said another.

Comments on the Star's Facebook page also included plenty of people sympathetic to the creatures.

"Flying foxes have an extremely important role in pollination and seed dispersal. To wish them dead is very silly indeed. Good luck in a world without them," said one.

"Wow! I guess all of you forgot that these 'pests' are actually a protected species in Australia," said another.

Topics:  death toll flying foxes richmond valley council

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