The flying night gardeners

Photo-documentary objectives:
Over 2 years, I wanted to create a photo-documentary series that helped increase awareness and understanding of the Grey-headed Flying-fox, in the hope that if people understood them, understood their importance to the natural world and understood the threats they face, they would be more empathetic to their plight and:
i) Be delighted to co-exist with and indeed live near GHFF colonies
ii) Using appropriate fruit tree netting
iii) Not plant fruit trees near barbed wire
iv) Support the work being done by carers in the community to help support, rescue and look after GHFF’s that have been injured (e.g. Friends of Bats and Bush Care and Fly By Night Bat Clinic.)

The Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) is one of the largest bats in the world with a weight of between 600–1000 g and a head-body length of between 230–289 mm. It is Australia’s only endemic flying-fox and has historically occupied forests and woodlands in the coastal lowlands, tablelands and slopes of south-eastern Australia, from Bundaberg in Queensland to Geelong in Victoria. They are highly intelligent and social mammals and seasonal breeders, with a single breeding event per year. Females give birth to a single pup and their lifespan is approximately 15-20 years. They feed on over 100 species of native flowering trees/blossoms and fleshy-fruited trees in canopy vegetation and can forage over 40 km to feed, before returning to their roost the same night. As such they disperse pollen and seeds during their foraging bouts, and in doing so contribute to the reproductive and evolutionary processes of forest communities along the east coast of Australia, including three of Australia’s World Heritage areas: Fraser Island, the Gondwana Rainforests and the Greater Blue Mountains.

Conservation status:
The Grey-headed Flying-fox is considered to be a single, mobile population with individuals distributed across Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT. Accepted population estimates sit somewhere between 320,000 to 435,000, representing a 90%+ reduction since British colonisation. With continued population decline (and with low population growth rates even if optimal conditions existed), this species is listed as:
i) ‘Vulnerable’ under the IUCN red list,
ii) ‘Vulnerable’ under the Australian Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999) and
iii) Threatened’ under the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988

Key threats:
Key threats include:
– Destruction and degradation of foraging and roosting habitats over large areas.
– Conflict with people, including deliberate camp disturbance
– Heat stress events
– Entanglement in back yard fruit-tree netting
– Entanglement in barbed wire
– Electrocution in power lines

Most don’t know:
Most people are generally unaware that:
– GHFFs are vegetarian
– GHFFs are highly intelligent, social, and caring mammals that breast feed their young
– GHFFs are a vital ‘keystone’ species – meaning that many other species (both plants and animals) rely upon them for their survival and well being
– GHFFs are vulnerable/threatened to significant population decline
– GHFFs are regularly maimed and killed by the largely preventable impacts of inappropriate back yard fruit tree netting and barbed wire
– A significant amount of work goes into rescuing and caring for GHFFs caught in nets/barbed wire
– In Melbourne, during summer at dusk, they create one of nature’s great spectacles – 50,000 flying mammals heading out over a major city at night, looking for dinner!