Baby bat steals the show at Fig Tree Park on Halloweeen
THERE was a real treat in store for the large group of flying fox admirers who gathered at Ross Creek at dusk on Halloween last week to enjoy the nightly "fly out" - despite the fact that hardly anyone saw it.
The meeting was meant to celebrate the dispersal of the colony each night, when bats fill the air as they come to life and leave for the night in search of food.
On Friday, it took a different turn, however, as one pair of upturned eyes noticed a tiny, baby bat hanging on its own in one of the uppermost branches of a tree, about 10-12 metres above the ground.
That was when the event turned into a real-life wildlife rescue, involving personnel from the Queensland Fire and Rescue Service (QFRS) in Yeppoon together with several members of Wildlife Rockhampton (WR) - which rescues, cares for and releases wildlife in the Livingstone and Rockhampton areas - who happened to be present for the "fly out" gathering.
Instead of watching thousands of Ross Creek flying foxes disperse for the night, everyone's attention became focused on one, very small infant bat as the local firies arrived and swung into action, planning and executing the treetop rescue without causing injury to the bat, themselves or any of the 60 or so people paying close attention to every move.
WR specialist bat carer Michelle Kraatz said the rescue was necessary because young bats are not normally left on their own by their parents. That this infant was by itself and making sounds of distress was a clear indication that, for some reason, a parent was unlikely to return.
The young bat, therefore, needed to be rescued and taken into care until it was old enough and able to be released and take its place in the colony, Ms Kraatz said.
After some careful planning - junior was high up in the trees and the light was fading quickly - QFRS officer Peter Nebauer made his way up the ladder, reached out, detached the relevant branch and brought it carefully back down to earth… and into the arms of Ms Kraatz.
The crowd responded with a loud and sustained round of applause in appreciation of the work by the local firies.
"We do this often enough for cats, so why not bats?" Mr Nebauer said.
Ms Kraatz quickly assessed the young bat, estimated her to be no more than a week old and in need of food. It was impossible to say how long she had been hanging on her own from the tree branch or what had caused the parent no to return.
She pointed out that flying foxes usually make good patients, as they are extremely intelligent and understand when humans are trying to help them.
Rosa, as she was quickly christened, settled back in the towel wrapped around her and accepted the kindness on offer, before being whisked away to dinner and some round-the-clock care.
Ms Kraatz said that, for her, caring for flying foxes was both a pleasure and a privilege.
"Flying foxes are animals with the intelligence of a dolphin, the dexterity of a primate and the emotional complexity of a human being and, therefore, the experience is extremely rewarding," she said.
"Our black flying foxes give birth around October and November, although we're finding it can sometimes be a little earlier or a little later.
"They only have one young a year - twins are rare - which, compared to other animals of their size, is a very low birth rate. Also, they don't breed successfully until they are around three.
"So maintenance of their populations requires high survival rates and rescues like this one tonight helps that."
Ms Kraatz said there had been a "staggering decline" in the numbers of all flying fox species in recent years.
Although the black flying fox is known as a "fruit bat", they feed mainly on native flowers, Ms Kraatz said.
However, they will supplement their diet with fruit when native flowers are not available to them.
"Flying foxes are a keystone species, which means they are the backbone of entire ecosystems.
"They are the world's best pollinators and seed dispersers, regenerating woodlands and forests and genetically strengthening the native species of our flora.
"Many eucalypts only produce pollen and nectar at night so, as the only night-time pollinators, these flying mammals are vital to these species," she said.
Ms Kraatz said flying foxes had been much maligned by cultural myths, fear and hysteria, generating an "unfounded fear" that needed to be countered with factual information, education and better perspectives.
"In short, if there are no flying foxes, there are no native trees, no woodlands or forests, no wildlife, no organisms, no soil quality, no clean water, no oxygen, no ecosystems - and no humans."
BABY SEASON FOR BATS
During the current bat baby season, Wildlife Rockhampton is urging people to keep an eye out for babies on their own and making distress calls, which sound like a distressed frog.
Report these bat babies so they can be given immediate assistance. This includes babies on dead mothers, on power lines and barbed wire fencing.
Please report all wildlife in need of assistance by contacting Wildlife Rockhampton on 0429 GO WILD (0429 469 453) or, alternatively, the RSPCA on 1300 ANIMAL (1300 264 625).
If you are interested in becoming a carer or rescuer, contact Wildlife Rockhampton or visit wildliferock hampton.org.au.