I celebrated earth day by going for a walk at Kearney Springs and visiting the bat (Flying fox), colony that calls the park home. It is to the Toowoomba councils credit that they eventually decided to protect this significant colony, despite attempts to have the colony either moved or destroyed, a few years back. The park also used to be home to a local miniature steam railway and with the bats being perceived as a health risk, concerted and prejudiced efforts were made to get the bats removed. I am extremely grateful that the miniature railway moved and the bats stayed.
The colony provides me with a desperately needed nature fix at the moment. My gratitude for the presence of these delightful animals really cannot be expressed. The sense of sheer joy and peace I get from walking in the leafy green sanctuary that is their home is incalculable. At the moment I am feeling quite trapped in my urban confines and the bats provide me with a much needed nature fix. I think we often forget that it is our own actions that have resulted in these animals moving into urban spaces, we have encroached on their habitat, destroying roosting and feeding sites in the process.
The bats are not always safe when they move into these shared environments, they can be noisy and on occasion messy, they are fruit and nectar eaters. The association with zoonotic diseases like lyssavirus and Hendra virus has engendered a bit of fear and prejudice against the animals and resulted in calls for their culling, despite the fact they are considered a vulnerable, if not endangered species. In Australia these bats are a crucial pollinator, essential to the health of our forests. The actual disease risk is extremely low to non-existent and requires more contact with an infected animal than anyone would ever normally have. In the case of hendra you need contact not with infected bat but an infected horse.
Disturbingly they could also be the poster animal for climate change, as they are extremely susceptible to temperature change, with heat waves resulting in mass die offs in colonies affected by hot weather events. They are effectively the canary in the coal mine in regards to climate change. Without the bats (flying foxes), entire ecosystems would collapse, many Australian plants are entirely dependent on these animals for pollination and dispersal, they are a key factor in Australian biodiversity and their loss from our environment could be devastating to all ready stressed eco-systems. They are as unique and as important ecologically as any of our other wonderful native animals, in fact they are if anything more so:
Flying foxes are foresters keeping the eco-system together. If we are to keep the remnants of our forests healthy, we need the flying foxes. The two are inseparable. – Dr Nicki Markus, Chief Conservation Office of Bush Heritage Australia (https://www.animalsaustralia.org/features/why-bats-need-your-love.php
To walk through the colony at Kearney Springs is a privilege and it is a joy to witness these social, intelligent animals up close. When you look into the eyes of flying fox you see curiosity looking back at you. When you watch these animals groom and chatter amongst themselves, you are given a privileged insight into their own complex social relationships. We are foolish if we believe we are the only animals to have complex and caring social relationships. The colony has a significant population of both grey headed and black flying foxes, if you are really lucky you might see some visiting red flying foxes. I only saw the grey headed and the black, a bit late in the year for the red. As a bonus we encounter some ducklings on the pond beside the bat habitat and while trying to get a closer look at the ducklings I disturbed a couple of possums who decided to scoot further up their tree since this ridiculous human and their hound invaded their territory.
And the miniature railway, in case anyone was wondering, they moved across the road into Lemway park. This provided them with a longer and in many ways, a much improved circuit for the trains. Lemway park also has fewer eucalypts so has much less attraction for the flying foxes. Everybody wins in the end. While the miniature railway is currently closed, like everything else due to coronavirus, you can check them out here at Toowoomba live steamers. Personally Toowoomba’s flying fox colony is a much more important and treasured local attraction and it is providing me with some much needed and invaluable nature therapy. I realize not everyone shares my appreciation of these amazing little animals but, trust me, our environment would be the poorer without them.