By Mitch Gilley, Associate Writer.
You may be aware of the current controversy in Queensland swirling around their local flying fox population. That controversy is two-fold: insiders in the fruit industry are lobbying for legal permission to shoot and kill these endangered animals. In addition, the usual histrionic misinformation about bats being a serious health risk has citizens and Premiere Campbell Newman pushing to pass dangerously permissive legislation that will leave no meaningful safeguards to protect these animals. In other words, flying foxes, animals who have the intelligence of a dolphin, the dexterity of a primate, and the emotional complexity of a human, will be shot and abused for living in their natural homes (the trees) and for feeding on the fruit grown and sold by its tenders.
Lobbying for the removal of such protections from multiple endangered species is an extreme action, and an extreme action in turn implies that the situation to be remedied is likewise extreme. If this is so, it begs one specific question:
The Australian fruit industry is not new, nor are the flying foxes that grace Queensland. Flying-foxes play a vital role in keeping Australia’s (and hence the world’s) ecosystems in good health. They pollinate flowers and disperse seeds as they forage on the nectar and pollen of eucalypts, melaleucas, banksias and on the fruits of rainforest trees and vines. Flying-foxes are particularly important in ensuring the survival of our threatened rainforests such as the Wet Tropics and Gondwana Rainforests (both listed as World Heritage sites). They not only enable plants to be prolific in their areas of origin, but to traverse long distances to take root in entirely new territories. From this increased diversity, more robust ecosystems develop with their dependence on any one single thing greatly lessened.
Australia’s grey headed and spectacled flying foxes are already listed as vulnerable species on the endangered species list, yet they are the animals being killed, and for understandably attempting to feed on fruit that they may have pollinated themselves. Whether they are shot by farmers or killed, even perhaps inadvertently in dispersal attempts, is irrelevant.
Of universal concern, however, is the proposed measure which calls for the burning of 700,000 hectares of various types of foliage in order to destroy the bats’ habitat. This, of course, would affect every single organism that shares that land. Such broad tampering with the ecosystem could trigger a domino effect that would race straight towards humans, bringing privation to all other life as it went. There is no reliable way of knowing until it’s too late.
Potential for harm aside, dispersals also nearly always fail. Flying foxes get as attached as you or I to their homes and are smart enough to retreat a minimal distance from the dispersal operation, and the extra flight time to their feeding grounds is trivial to them. What’s less trivial is the expense required to undertake and fail in a dispersal attempt.
Then there is the lack of meaningful oversight. The proposal mandates the presence of an “expert,” but neither defines what constitutes an expert nor affords them any authority to intervene should the operation become inhumane. Recent efforts have already proven to be cruel: bats were shot – often merely wounded due to their size and speed – and collected in plastic bags while still alive, left to drown in the blood of their roostmates, buried in the corpses of their kin. Many babies weren’t shot at all and lay desperately clinging to their dead and dying mothers. These babies may not even be noticed and not even have the mercy of blood loss and resultant unconsciousness as they slowly starve. Still others weren’t noticed at all and merely starved without their mothers to nurse them.
These are not the actions of a people who can legitimately claim to be civilized, most particularly so when much safer and humane alternatives exist, such as exclusionary netting, which is very inexpensive relative to conducting a dispersal operation, as netting is a one-time cost aside from maintenance, while dispersal operations will almost certainly need to be repeated. No, such actions as are now proposed are rooted in anger and greed rather than pragmatism. These are the fruits of lobbyists clamoring on behalf of fruit industry stockholders who are willing to essentially have endangered animals killed as well as perhaps well meaning people who simply vastly overestimate the supposed “health risks” of having bats living nearby. Austin, TX, for instance, has a massive colony of Mexican free tails living in the city itself, and while they themselves pose no risk to humans, the flying foxes of Queensland have an even lower incidence of isolated cases of disease. Bats themselves will even self-isolate when they become sick to protect their roostmates.
Make no mistake, killing these bats could start a chain reaction that could potentially topple Queensland’s ecosystems, but there is no question that it will definitely cost Queenslanders much of their humanity. With each bat that dies slowly in a plastic bag without understanding what is happening to them, the respect of the global community for Queensland will wane, and very likely their tourism industry with it. It has already been noted there are many in Queensland who are adamantly against any measure taken against these beautiful beings, but they will be tarred by that same dirty brush, however unfairly.
It is time to make your voice heard. Let Premiere Campbell Newman know that the world watches to see whether it can find a way to peacefully and profitably coexist with these inoffensive, innocent animals or whether baser instincts of greed will win out.
THEY ARE BETTER THAN THIS. TELL THEM.
A sample letter has been provided below. Please feel free to copy and paste this text into an email and send it to:
In regards to the proposed measures concerning the flying foxes with which Queensland is graced, I’m writing this letter to express my extreme displeasure and horror. Virtually every consequence of said measures has the potential to damage Queensland’s ecosystems and reputation, as the “safeguards” written into the legislation are wholly inadequate to protect the bats, the people of Queensland or the reputation of your province abroad.Dispersal efforts, lethal or otherwise, almost always fail. In the highly unusual event that a colony is actually moved, dispersals still fail in having a meaningful effect. These animals have a tremendous flight range and an attachment to the home that is just as deep and profound as your attachment to your own home, and thus they will move just enough to avoid whatever threat is used to disperse them. This minimal shift in proximity is almost never enough to do much other than cause them to fly a few more seconds to the very same grounds they previously frequented.The other effects of a dispersal operation, however, are not so trivial. Such operations are quite expensive, put people in close quarters with distressed or injured bats who may bite out of desperation, and most of all breed manifold forms of abuse. Worse, the bats that might most concern humans, the healthy adults, are the ones who will be able to escape harm while defenseless and inoffensive babies and heavily pregnant mothers are helpless to even comply with the wishes of those executing the dispersion. There are already ugly yet reliable stories of abuse coming from Australian caretakers of injured and wounded bats. The proof of such stories is the bats themselves and the documenting of their stories by the selfless rescuers whom represent the best of the people of Queensland.
This is clearly an emotional response from greedy individuals in the fruit industry who are more concerned with profit margins than the equilibrium of the ecosystem of Queensland, the welfare of the utterly innocent flying foxes now so gravely threatened, or even whether this ineffectual plan and the shoddy legislation behind it will even work. Ironically, too, with flying foxes being such ubiquitous and far-ranging pollinators, the proposed measures and their near-total lack of meaningful oversight may actually damage or destroy the fruit industry’s ability to produce at all.
We implore you to reconsider this course of action. Neither the fruit industry nor the human population of Queensland are new; were there any severe inability to coexist of the kind that would warrant the extreme action now proposed, it would have unquestionably manifested by now, either in the eradication of the fruit industry or of the bats. There has been a long coexistence between the two, however, and we urge you to help it continue. The people of Queensland, and you yourself, are better than this. Prove it.
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