Bat experts in Australia are appealing to the public to be tolerant of bats, as the numbers of the creatures continue to swell in the urban night skies.
For many reasons, bats are not popular creatures. Be it with farmers who suffer crop loss from the nocturnal feasting of these flying mammals, or with city dwellers who find them terrifying and dirty. For many, it is the supposed link between bats and Covid-19 that is a cause for concern.
But bat expert Dr Pia Lentini says that the increase of bats in Australian cities is a result of the devastating bushfires of last year which impacted massively on the natural habitats of bats.
“They are in our cities because they are starving,” Lentini told The Guardian.
She added, “There’s been conflict with flying foxes for decades – it started with fruit growers who had bats ‘raiding’ their fruit, and the economic cost of that.
“Now we have flying foxes becoming increasingly urban because they’re losing habitat. There’s now also a great diversity of trees in our cities. They are becoming more urban and the camps are becoming more prominent.”
No need to fear disease transmission
Another bat expert, ecologist Dr David Westcott said that it was important to allay fears about bats carrying disease. “We shouldn’t pretend that flying foxes are not vectors for some nasty diseases,” he said, “But getting a virus from a bat generally requires us to have intimate contact with an animal and with flying foxes, we don’t do that,” he said.
Westcott said that 2019 had been a very bad year for bats with some species suffering huge declines in numbers.
“We had extreme heat and droughts and bushfires and all kinds of misery for flying foxes,” he said, adding that the population of a species like the spectacled flying fox had declined to dangerously low levels – there are approximately 70000 of these animals left in 2020 compared to almost a quarter-million tallied in a 2005 bat census.