Photo: Licuala Rainforest Refuge - Cheryll Williams and Tony Young

This article featured in Wildlife Lands Issue 16

Listed as threatened under federal and various state laws, grey-headed flying-foxes (Pteropus poliocephalus) are Australia's only endemic flying-fox and one of the largest bats in the world. They weigh 600-1000 grams with a length of 23-29 centimetres and - as per the name - their heads are covered by light grey fur, with a collar of orange encircling the neck.

A diverse diet includes nectar and pollen from eucalypts, melaleucas and banksias, and although they range from around Rockhampton in Queensland to southern Victoria, only a small proportion of their habitat is used at any time due to selective foraging. For this reason, patterns of occurrence and abundance vary widely between seasons and years.

Spectacled flying-foxes (Pteropus conspicillatus) are so named due to the distinctive straw coloured fur surrounding their eyes, and they typically have a length of 15-24 centimetres and weigh 500-850 grams. Their Australian distribution is restricted to north-eastern Queensland and, while long assumed to feed primarily on rainforest species, they regularly feed on a variety of species including eucalypts in tall open forests, tropical wood land and savanna ecosystems. Although currently listed as Vulnerable federally, a Humane Society International nomination has prioritised an Endangered assessment.

Flying-foxes' high mobility makes them important pollinators, vital to the reproduction, regeneration and evolution of forest ecosystems. They pollinate over far larger distances than birds or insects, and are critical for coastal species only receptive to pollination at night.

Flying-fox camps can be viewed negatively by the public due to exaggerated health concerns; however ineffective management options such as dispersals are inappropriate due to significant stress caused. Such options also ignore that the flying-foxes roost where they do for a reason, having had habitat decimated by urban and agricultural development.

An attraction to orchards has seen flying-foxes victim to crop protection shooting for decades, but this practice recently stopped when in July a NSW government commitment, tied to an orchard netting subsidy program, halted licenced shooting for crop protection.  This practical solution has taken many years of work, with HSI/WLT staff playing key roles. The Queensland Government reclassified spectacled flying-foxes as Vulnerable, meaning damage mitigation permits for crop protection shooting can no longer be granted. Things may be finally looking up for flying-foxes.

Humane Society International and the Wildlife Land Trust have long been involved with flying-fox conservation in Australia: from our nomination that led to the grey-headed flying-fox becoming a nationally threatened species in 2001, to more recent work in elevating the conservation status of the spectacled flying-fox, and our ongoing involvement in the NSW Flying-fox Consultative Committee.