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Fruitbats and coco-nutters

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When, as a young man, I gained a very modest tertiary qualification, I went out into the world as a know-it-all, pain-in-the-arse little bastard.

Now those of you who occasionally stick your head into The Bucket  for a read might perhaps reasonably suggest that nothing much has changed, but I would beg to differ because I used to be much worse.

What has changed in the subsequent 40 years, is that I now understand that the lecturer's opinions, and the black and white texts I assiduously studied in my narrow field of interest, often bore only a minor and very tenuous connection to the kaleidoscopic colour of reality in the broader world.

I also learned somewhere along the way to be intensely self-critical, to understand how little I really knew, and that the sands of knowledge and "absolute certainty" were forever shifting.

My paper qualification was merely the key to the car of discovery,
and not a certificate automatically entitling me to provide advanced driving tuition to others.

Some environmental campaigners have yet to understand this.

Recently in Queensland three people were bitten by fruit bats from one colony which was subsequently proven to be carrying the potentially deadly-to-humans Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

A self-appointed spokesperson for the bats warned against proposals to remove the offending colony with an unconvincing assertion to the effect that;   "If you make them mad, they will give off more viruses",
as though we were to imagine them as skunks or octopuses with an inclination to secrete defence clouds, but in this case laden with infectious viral material.
In effect he was suggesting that we should be held to ransom, and our movement restricted, by a single colony of flying foxes.

Fruit bats in Queensland are often present in plague proportions.
It would not be thus without the farmers who, in the first place,  planted all the fruit orchards upon which the animals now feed.  
I will rarely endorse interfering unnecessarily with any of our native animals, but in this specific case, where our health is placed at risk, and their survival as a species is not threatened, we are entitled to run the agenda, not the bats or their spokespersons.

Some years ago a fresh faced environmentalist seriously suggested that the thousands of coconut trees lining the beaches of Australia's tropical north should be removed, on the grounds that the species was "not endemic" to the continent.

Ignoring, apparently, any consideration that the coconut tree is one of the most useful-to-human plants on earth.

Coconut seeds could conceivably have floated across the oceans and germinated in our sand hundreds or thousands of years ago.

How far would he have liked to wind back the clock of evolution?

For the greatest chance of finding environmental truth and common sense I will go no further than being advised by those like Sir David Attenborough who have the appropriate combination of education, wisdom and life experience, and the ability to see both the forest and the trees.

P. S. There may well be more to the flying fox story than that which was published. Fruit bats do not normally flap around attacking random humans unless, I suppose, they (the bats) are totally blind, short-sonared and therefore mistake a tall skinny man in a yellow raincoat for a very large banana.)

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

21 responses »

  1. Great post. This is such a complex topic. I struggle with it all the time. As usual I consider my viewpoint completely logical and without emotion, although I'm sure that's not true. Okay it's not true at all.
    From where I stand, humans are animals. Bats are animals. Bats carry diseases and we're not immortal. What's amusing is when you mentioned the farmers I couldn't tell if you were applauding or condenming them for their role, i.e. yes they did the bats a favor, but in the end, did they really?
    Since lyme disease spread and made many people sick in our region, deer have become similarly maligned. Hunters are trying to make themselves heroes for shooting deer, even though it does not really do much for population control.
    Many animals have adapted predator strategies – deer can re-absorb fetuses when nutrition is low, and some can have twins if their population mortaltiy is high. After many beavers were destroyed here for flooding basements, it made the population explode and now the problem is threefold. Pest control usually backfires.
    The main reason deer are a problem is because all the wolves have lost habitat and been killed off by hunters. Only if the ecosystem issue is addressed can the bat problem be solved. Humans are, IMO, foolish to think they can simply take over nature's job and do it effectively. It's much more complex than one can imagine.

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  2. Ooh, it's related to rabies? Nasty! However if my web search is correct, it's cureable. I hope that's true.

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  3. Thanks for another interesting contribution Emmi. You are right….it is a very complex issue. There are certainly no hard and fast rules when it comes to managing environmental issues.Humans are the only species of animal with the potential to significantly manipulate ecology, and accordingly we have a responsibility to do it with consideration to all other species.Common sense needs to apply.Putting a cap on human numbers for starters.Permitting a balanced ecological tradeoff to enable farmers to produce sufficient food for us. However, by doing so we have created an artificially enhanced environment for some animals like the bats.It has similarly occurred in arid Australia where graziers, by accessing subterranean aquifers for cattle drinking water, face an explosion in kangaroo numbers because they too can now forage in places previously too dry to support large numbers.Again common sense might suggest the possibility of farming kangaroos which are more environmentally suited to the environment.

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  4. I had the joy of working with a man who had a PhD in bats – true. He once told me that we actually have to go out of our way to be bitten by a bat. Most of us have the sense to stay clear of a large bat colony. However, I do understand the need to balance health and safety with the natural world. I often wonder if the very reasons why we built our settlements in areas favoured by animals is not the same reason the animals were there in the first place….water and vegetation, and those very animals? Survivial of the fittest goes on.

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  5. Is there any sort of vaccine that could be given out in fruit-bat infested areas? Here we have ticks that give off Lyme Disease and rats, whose pee can spread leptospirosis but no one is overly bothered because only a few people get zapped each year. Could a compromise be found by looking for a way to treat the bats and try to eradicate the virus from the population?

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  6. I wonder what those people were doing to get bitten by bats…. when I lived in Sydney fruit bats used to hang out in a couple of our trees at night – they never looked like swarming out to attack us but then we didn't actually venture too close to them.
    This is one of those conundrum type issues which arise with development and the spread of humans who so considerately provide "food" allowing animals to thrive. The biggest problems where I live are rats and raccoons who find an endless supply of food in the poorly constructed rubbish bins – not to mention the garbos inability to tip the bins into the back of their truck without spreading banquets around the ground for the rodents to come back to.
    I almost wish I saw something as exotic as a bat!! πŸ™‚

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  7. Your degree sounds like it at least resembled something useful, something I cannot claim.I will, however, suggest you simply distract your fruit rats, as we've done.

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  8. Foiled again! Fruit bats not rats! Maybe they can be taught to catch fly balls πŸ™‚

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  9. Oh wow, interesting about the kangaroos! Right on about human populations – in Kingdom Animalia we're second in number only to insects and since we have an obvious evolutionary advantage, I do think we have the obligation to think stuff through before we destroy other mammals.
    Once I read about the actual disease I began to understand it in a different light. I've never heard of a rabies-related virus. Is treatment the same for rabies? If so, there's no need to destroy any bats.
    In the States (and in my state specifically), little brown bats carry rabies and can survive the virus for a year or more. The real danger here is that people can get bitten by this tiny bat and not even realize it. But they don't exterminate bats, generally. If people are even in the same room with a bat, they often get the rabies treatment which is 100 percent effective (and much less troublesome than it used to be).
    Now, from what I understand, people don't even have to pay for it because the state "owns" the wild animals and therefore will pay for people's treatments. I think the same thing can be applied here and hopefully no extermination is necessary.
    Vicola's idea is interesting, I know that Cape Cod was rabies-free for a while but once infected raccoons got back into the area, there was an experimental food given to them. The only trouble is 1. the vaccine is usually an injection 2. if it's given out as food there's no way to be sure how many animals ingested it.

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  10. ps I read an interesting (and obviously biased) article on this, GOF. It claims that only 1 percent of the bats are infected with the virus, and that the other reason people want to eradicate them is because they eat fruit crops. It also points out that the treatment is effective.
    If these are grey-headed flying foxes, this may even be an endangered species even though it seems like it's anything but since they're concentrated in one area. One solution (and honestly, the best one I can imagine) is to somehow get rid of their food source which will drive them out of the area. That would obviously be tricky but some types of spray may deter them from eating the crops.

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  11. we actually have to go out of our way to be bitten by a bat.

    I am glad to have my suspicions confirmed by a bat expert….. it
    might just have been 3 men doing stupid things that resulted in them
    getting bitten.
    I like your idea that all animals are in conflict over the most fertile pieces of real estate.

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  12. no one is overly bothered because only a few people get zapped each year. I think it probably should be the case here too Vicola, the disease angle is a convenient argument run by those who don't want fruit bats around…..large colonies are noisy and they stink and crap all over the place.I am not sure about any vaccine….I suspect not, because humans being infected from bats is a rare event.

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  13. spreading banquets around …. LOLThis is one of those conundrum type issues which arise with development Absolutely. There is no easy solution. There are ways to move colonies on, but then they just go and annoy someone else so it's not a permanent answer.

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  14. Your degree sounds like it at least resembled something useful. Nah….not even a degree m-t…just a 3-year Diploma …..on the practical side it does however give me great authority to speak on subjects such as digging postholes by hand, and shovelling every kind of farm animal shite.Thanks for your stickball solution to the flying rats. I'll recommend you be employed as a consultant for the Queensland Govt. Would $500K be OK for a months work?

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  15. Thanks for all that information Emmi…you certainly know more about ABL now than I do.I suspect the flying foxes in question were not endangered, otherwise my "spokesperson" would have used that fact rather than the very lame reason he actually used to protect them.As I indicated to Emjay, the disease angle could very well be just an excuse to exterminate some bats. They do not endear themselves to lots of people…..from city dwellers who cannot stand the noise, smell and filth from very large colonies, to farmers who have to withstand bat raids to make any money from orchards.I can see it from both points of view. Previously as a farmer who tried to make a living from growing bananas but eventually had to give in to the persistence of birds and other wild scavengers.It is a real issue still for lychee farmers in my area. They cover the individual trees (which are often up to 5 metres high, so it's a difficult and expensive job) with mesh nets to keep the bats out…..but they scramble their way UNDER the nets to get at the food……so farmer in the morning finds his nets full of fat flatulent flying foxes.Now I have another idea. ……. :-)……….flying foxes are regarded as a culinary delicacy in many other cultures……………. . . . . . . bat farms?

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  16. I don't know the details GOF, but usually farmers don't go bumping things off unless they are being effected by them. Who wants to expend extra effort for no effect?Having said that, sometimes theories run rampant and I can't count the number of arguements I've heard about dingoes from farmers supporting both sides.One thing for sure though is community safety. There are no shortages of bats so I reckon I'd side with the humans this time.On an environmental matter, I saw an article yesterday written by someone from "The Kangaroo protection alliance". (Or some such wording. There is usually an alliance floating about in the title somewhere).Apparently being up to our collective arses in Roos still isn't reason enough to farm them. I would have thought that from the environment standpoint Roos make a much better option than cattle.Skippy excepted of course.

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  17. πŸ˜‰ If people shot the deer to eat them, I'd have almost no objection to that (or roos, or….bats, LOL. Although you'd need a lot of seasoning)

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  18. I'm walking your way now…I could walk on water for $500k!

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  19. I could walk on water for $500k! Please can I be your marketing agent?We can make a whole lot more if you could just do that a couple of times πŸ˜‰

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  20. I would have thought that from the environment standpoint Roos make a much better option than cattle.Absolutely Pete, and we could be one very large hop in front of the rest of the world in producing a healthier lower-fat range of meat products including Skippy burgers.You're right, the "alliance" or whatever do-gooders must have never taken a drive into unpopulated parts of Australia and seen just how many roos are out there.

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  21. I'm afraid it may only work once-ish.

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