Evans Head battling with bat problem

SILVER Sands Caravan Park residents at Evans Head, Ray Peart and Dean Box, blame the loss of rainforest wildlife on a colony of flying foxes that has moved in next door.

Richmond Valley Council is now looking at ways to manage the Evans Head bat colony, with a report on public display at all council offices.

“We used to see families of land mullets, and we used to hear whipbirds, but we've got none of that now,” said Mr Peart, who moved to the caravan park nine years ago.

“We even used to have a plague of cane toads that spent their days under the leaf litter in the rainforest. But they're gone too, perhaps because of all the flying fox droppings.”

The two friends, who live in relocatable homes right next to a strip of littoral rainforest separating the park from the beach and Evans River, have put up with thousands of flying foxes defecating on their laundry and cars, as well as the noise of the animals calling to each other early in the morning.

The council is considering ways to manage the bat population, which fluctuates from just a few in mid-summer to 5000 at the end of winter.

Last year, most were black flying foxes, a healthy population which moved south from Queensland. This year they are mostly the grey-headed variety, a population deemed 'vulnerable'. It is believed the black flying foxes have returned to Queensland to feed on abundant wildflowers as a result of the good wet season.

Wildlife experts say the flying foxes play an essential role in pollinating native trees, like eucalypts, and keep vegetation communities healthy and diverse. Since forcing them out is not an option - many have tried in the past with flame-throwers, shotguns and poisons, all to little avail - the council has been advised to manage the situation.

While the risk of disease associated with the bats is very low, there is still a risk, the council report says.

Australian bat lyssa virus (ABL) is carried by fewer than one per cent of the wild bat population, and Hendra virus, believed to be passed to horses from flying fox urine or reproductive fluids, is not highly contagious. However, the rare virus has killed three people in recent times.

“There is a low public health risk from flying fox populations,” the report says, noting that their impact on water bodies appears to be 'not significant'.

The report suggests ways to capitalise on the Evans Head flying fox colony, with wildlife tours one option.

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