The grey-headed flying-fox is listed as vulnerable to extinction. So how is the species managed in NSW? Well for one, the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) issues licenses for it to be culled despite an independent government appointed committee concluding that the practice is "unacceptable legally and ethically".
The core issue is that flying-foxes damage fruit in commercial orchards. Orchard fruit isn't their preferred diet, it's too low in protein but, when natural food sources (native fruits and blossoms) are scarce, the orchards provide a fallback, easy source of food. But it's a fallback that can lead to a bullet and a slow death through infection, dehydration or predation.
NSW is the only state that still allows for flying-foxes to be shot. Queensland banned it in 2008 because of its cruelty. The NSW government lacked the courage to follow suit.
Full exclusion netting is the only effective way of protecting orchards against flying-foxes but the cost of installation is high. Shooting, ineffective as it is (especially when there are large numbers of bats), is cheaper than netting and remains the preferred option for many orchardists.
Welfare, conservation and farmer groups have been lobbying the NSW Government to commit funds to a program that will provide support for farmers to install netting but there's little sign that the current Labor government is taking the issue seriously.
In an upcoming post, we'll look at the issue of "scouts". Some farmers and politicians claim that shooting just a few bats, the mythical "scouts", will protect an orchard from incursions from large numbers of bats. The claim really doesn't stand up to close scrutiny and we think it's worth showing why.....
In the meantime, if you want to know more about shooting and especially the cruelty issues, check out the resources that Humane Society International have online.