Perhaps there were more who supported the plight of the unwanted mammals. There is no shame in declining to stand up and be counted amid such adverse and hostile surroundings. The behaviour of the majority of the crowd was, however, shameful.
Grey-headed Flying-Foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) first arrived in Singleton to 'camp' in Burdekin Park on the New England Highway about 7 years ago. Burdekin Park was (and still is) indeed a beautiful park; a passive recreation area which I feel sure most of the town would appreciate.
Flying-fox habits and habitat
Flying-foxes, or fruit-bats, eat nectar, pollen and fruit, spending the day in a 'camp' and flying off at dusk to feed. They roost in the branches of large trees in forests or mangroves, seldom more than 150km inland and often in such secluded locations as islands.
The social behaviour of Grey-headed Flying-foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) associated with camping and breeding follows a fixed pattern. Females in advanced pregnancy segregate from the males and each bears a single young in October after mating in March or April.
The young animal, which has no fur on its undersurface, is carried by its mother (even to the feeding ground) for 4 to 5 weeks, by which time it is completely furred. It is then left in the camp at night and suckled when the female returns. Mothers locate their young by their distinctive individual odours. Young can fly when 8 to 10 weeks old and forage independently from the age of about 12 weeks. [Ref: "The Australian Museum Complete Book of Australian Mammals" edited by Ronald Strahan.]
The four Flying-fox species found in Australia occur mostly in northern and eastern temperate and sub-tropical coastal areas. They are nomadic animals; their movement patterns and local distribution are determined by variations in climate and the flowering and fruiting patterns of their preferred food plants.
A Hunter Valley wildlife carer feeds an orphan
This loss of natural habitat and the creation of new habitat and year round food supply in suburban areas over the last 30 years, has meant changes have occurred in Flying-fox distribution. The Grey-headed Flying-fox has adapted its behaviour to take advantage of new habitat and reliable food supplies, and is indeed an intelligent and resourceful animal.
Flying-foxes prefer blossom, nectar, fruit and occasionally leaves of native plants, particularly eucalypts, tea-trees, grevilleas, figs and lilly pillys. They will also take the fruit of cultivated trees, particularly during periods of shortage of their preferred food. They prefer to feed close to where they roost, so most feeding is done within 5 to 15 kilometres from the campsite. However, they can travel up to 50 kilometres (100km round trip) in search of native nectar, blossom and fruit. [Ref: Department of Primary Industry, Victoria.]
Flying-foxes play a major role in the regeneration of native hardwood forests and rainforests by pollinating as they feed and dispersing seeds as they move throughout the forest.
Through this role they provide habitat for other flora and fauna species and add value for other forest uses such as hardwood timber, honey and native plant industries. [Ref: Department of Primary Industries, Victoria.]
An orphaned Grey-headed Flying-fox pup receives some attention from its carer after a feed
Since the Grey-headed Flying-foxes set up camp in Burdekin Park in 2000, Singleton Council has spent a considerable amount of money attempting to move the bats on.
In 2002 and 2003, Council used electronic noise control, water sprays from elevated platforms, lighting, and mechanical noise over a long period of time. In 2005, a local resident received Council approval to operate a modified motor mower for a few weeks in an attempt to encourage the flying-foxes to relocate.
Council applied for permission to use the chemical product "D-Ter" which, according to Council, is an aluminium-based spray which causes uneasiness in the bats. Permission to use the spray was granted, but the conditions attached made the cost prohibitive.
Singleton Council is in the process of discussing their proposed application to the Department of Environment and Climate Change for a licence to cull the flying-foxes by means of fire-arm. Financial assistance from the state government has also been applied for with the view to implement the "D-Ter" chemical deterrent. Bat numbers vary throughout the year, with a reduction in winter, and the population swelling during birthing season. [Ref: an authority from Singleton 'Parks' Department.]
Singleton community meeting
As previously mentioned, I attended the meeting on 14 November 2007 organised by locals who wish the flying-foxes gone. The overall tone of the meeting was an overwhelming "its time to shoot the bats".
Meeting organiser began by telling the audience that [quote] "flying-foxes had killed just about every rainforest in Australia; that the DECC had lied, and that conservationists have misinformed the community; that community values had been over-ridden by DECC; that the bats had made him ill through time spent in the park, and that community health issues regarding the flying-foxes were more serious than people believed; that it would only be a matter of time before a human death occured as a result of disease from the bats, and that the government would be responsible".
This presentation was met with loud applause and shouts of "filthy vermin", "just shoot them", "get the army in for target practice", "Council has squandered enough of rate-payers' money". I felt ashamed to be a Singleton resident, was on the verge of tears, and contemplated walking out.
The motions put forward and recorded, in order, were:
* Bring the army in to shoot the bats
* Council to be requested to reverse their decision not to trial the chemical spray "D-Ter"
* Lock up Burdekin Park from the public until the bats are gone; and place signage
* Seek information and progress to reduce the protection status of the Grey-headed Flying-foxes
* Remove small and damaged branches and canopy of the trees to reduce roosting capability.
Suggestions from bat supporters that were put forward were NOT recorded, and all were howled down by the crowd. The suggestions were:
* Erect 'sails' over the war memorial that is being soiled by bat excrement
* Plan and construct appropriate out-of-town habitat for future flying-fox colonies
* Undertake a properly researched and implemented relocation to the edge of town or other appropriate location.
Mention was made by meeting organisers of a small colony of flying-foxes camping near the Singleton hospital and of concerns regarding the possible danger they represent to the operation of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter. If this is the case, I believe expertise should be applied to remedy this situation without delay.
I had many concerns and questions that I had intended to approach, but it was impossible to speak more than briefly due to the intimidation and rudeness of the crowd.
Here is a link to a site containing much useful information on Grey-headed Flying-foxes.
Flying-foxes hanging around in Burdekin Park
I spent most of yesterday at Burdekin Park in an effort to obtain a realistic idea of exactly what effect the bats are having on the park and park users. I chatted to wildlife-carers who rescue and rehabilitate flying-foxes; I watched families and couples picnicking and admiring the bats; I saw people photographing the bats; I answered questions from youngsters who asked me intelligent questions regarding the bats; I heard of a wedding that was photographed in the park recently; and I sat on the grass for nearly 2 hours completely undisturbed by the flying-foxes carrying on with their lives.