Each evening as the sun sets on the city of Melbourne, thousands of winged mammals take to the skies in search of flower-nectar and fruit. By day, these Grey-headed Flying Foxes hang effortlessly from the trees of the popular Yarra Bend Park – the site of the city’s premiere bat hangout. The colony’s population grows and shrinks at different times of the year, some months reaching as many as 30,000 individuals. But despite their apparent numbers, Grey-headed Flying Foxes are, throughout their range (Rockhampton, Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide) in short supply.
Habitat loss and other stressors have taken their toll. The species has declined by upwards of 98% since 1900. Now climate change threatens their already precarious future, with heat waves and increasingly frequent and severe storms killing 1000s of bats each year. With the odds increasingly stacked against them, it’s nice to know these mammals – which are so crucial to the long-term health of native forests – have friends they can count on.
Friends of Bats and Bushcare Inc. are devoted helpers of Yarra Bend Park and the flying foxes that call it home. The group’s president, Lawrence Pope, has a long history of caring for the bats and is determined to see them live on at Yarra Bend for centuries to come. By planting native trees and understory shrubs to ensure the park remains forested for the future, the friends group aims to increase the bats’ chances of staving off extinction. What’s more is that come those deadly heat waves, these Community Conservationists brave the weather to spray the bats with water to keep them cool, and rescue any individuals in dire straits. Indeed, a defining ethic of the group is that they care not just for the species survival, but also for the plight of each and every individual that calls the park and wider Australia home – as they have done for two million years.