Widespread food shortages due to the long-running drought and exacerbated by recent bushfires have led to the deaths of many young flying foxes here in Bega and further afield says a local ecologist.
Hugh Pitty, coordinator of the Friends of Glebe Wetlands, said deaths of grey-headed flying foxes have been noted right across their range through eastern Australia in recent weeks.
"Food sources for flying foxes were already stressed due to drought limiting the production of nectar on flowers in native forests," he said this week.
"But now the recent bushfires, which have burnt out very extensive areas of native forest greatly reducing available forage habitat, have left flying fox mothers without enough nourishment to produce milk, meaning that sadly they have been forced to abandon their wholly dependent young."
The Friends of Glebe Wetlands group undertakes regular monthly counts of Bega's flying fox camp as an ongoing citizen science project collecting valuable data for the National Flying Fox Monitoring Program.
The seasonal camp re-established at Glebe Lagoon in early November, and had around 1300 flying foxes by November 16.
Deaths have been recorded since the very hot day on November 21, when two young flying foxes were found dead. More recently, deaths have increased with 10 young flying foxes found on the ground under the pin oak trees on the north side of the lagoon on November 28.
Then on the morning of December 3, 19 dead young flying foxes were collected and a further four were taken into care by a local WIRES volunteer. That same evening another 22 dead bats were collected.
Deaths have continued over the past week at a gradually declining rate, possibly indicating that since arriving in the Bega Valley, flying fox mothers are finding enough food to begin producing milk again.
"In total, at the Glebe Park Lagoon, more than 80 young flying foxes have been collected in the past two weeks, which is a very high number," Mr Pitty said.
"In the spring of 2016, the widespread food shortages that occurred in an area from Adelaide to Gympie, also impacted here in Bega and led to 60 deaths in the space of three weeks.
"That three years later, we are having another episode of mass deaths suggests that the problem of food shortages for flying foxes in later winter and spring is recurring more frequently," he said.
Mr Pitty said a scientist from Macquarie University has agreed to take the bodies of the dead young flying foxes - which have been frozen soon after collection to preserve them as specimens - for use in ongoing research into the parasites of the grey headed flying fox.
Mr Pitty said anyone concerned to help with the problem of food shortages should plant native tree species that flower in the critical time from late winter into spring. These include silky oak (grevillea robusta), NSW Christmas bush (ceratopetalum gummiferum), blackwood (acacia melanoxylon), tallowwood (eucalyptus microcorys), and forest red gum (eucalyptus tereticornis).
Anyone finding an abandoned young flying fox that is in need of care should contact WIRES on 1300 094 737 or Wildlife Rescue South Coast on 0417 238 921. Do not handle bats yourself.