Monday, May 2, 2011

Update: 1st May 2011

Here’s an update on a few of the ongoing issues that are affecting flying-foxes in NSW. It’s been a pretty grim few months and there’s not much good news.

Shooting of flying-foxes for crop protection

NSW is the only state that still allows flying-foxes to be shot as a method of crop protection. It’s a practice that an independent panel, commissioned by the NSW Labor government, found to be “unacceptable legally and ethically” because of the duration and extent of suffering caused to both the animals that are shot (many of which will not die immediately) and young flying foxes that are orphaned by the loss of their mother and will subsequently die of dehydration or starvation (a fact acknowledged by the NSW government department responsible for the issuing of licenses to shoot flying-foxes). 

Prior to the March NSW state elections, both Liberal and Labor parties committed $5m+ of support to orchardists in the Sydney and Central Coast regions of NSW towards the installation of full exclusion netting which offers far better protection against flying-foxes (and birds, and hail) than shooting can. This was the first glimmer of hope that perhaps we might actually see a reduction in the rate of shooting, and the cruelty associated with it. 

But post-election, things took a significant turn for the worse...... 

NSW Politics Part 1

In the lead up to the NSW state elections, the Liberals Environment Spokesperson, Catherine Cusack, had demonstrated a strong degree of support on the matter of shooting and there was some hope amongst conservation groups that she could bring some real passion to the Environment portfolio should the Liberals, as expected, be elected.

So it came as quite a blow when Cusack was omitted from the new cabinet and the Environment portfolio was handed to Robyn Parker, a junior minister with no apparent environment experience. 

Worse was to come. The NSW Dept of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW) was disbanded and its functions transferred into the Department of Premier and Cabinet. NSW Premier O’Farrell claimed that this demonstrated an elevation in the status of environmental issues within his cabinet but few conservationists believe this and instead see it as a clear sign that the O’Farrell government has little commitment towards positive environmental outcomes. DECCW is now known as the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) and the former director of DECCW is now the head of OEH. This is clearly a demotion even though effectively she still holds the same job. And the Minister of Environment, Robyn Parker, seems to be little more than a figurehead as the OEH departmental structure reports not to her but to Barry O’Farrell. 

NSW Politics Part 2

Within weeks of the election, the new Minister for Primary Industries, Katrina Hodgkinson was describing flying-foxes as pests and vermin. This was in response to calls from farmers in the NSW Central-West region for the new government to make it easier for farmers to acquire licenses allowing them to shoot flying-foxes. 

NSW Farmers appear to have taken full advantage of Hodgkinson’s inexperience in the ministry and, in an apparent attempt to appease the increasingly strident (and unverifiable) claims of damage created by flying-foxes, her Department issued a press release indicating that she would pursue having the grey-headed flying-fox removed from the threatened species list. It would appear that her expectation was that this would make it easier to allow the farmers to shoot larger numbers of flying-foxes whilst ignoring the reality that the species is in decline and increasing the rate of shooting would inevitably hasten that decline. Hodgkinson’s media release on the issue contains some significant errors which suggests that she was either poorly briefed or was more focused on appeasing NSW Farmers than she was on getting her facts right. 

It’s worth noting that threatened species listings don’t even fall within Hodgkinson’s remit. They fall within Robyn Parker’s Environment portfolio and to the department now known as OEH that reports in to Barry O’Farrell.  In a further sign that Primary Industries interests have greater precedence than environmental concerns, neither Barry O’Farrell nor Robyn Parker made a single public statement on the matter, even with respect to those aspects of it that fall within their responsibilities and not Katrina Hodgkinson’s.

After the initial flurry of media, Hodgkinson has been silent in the last couple of weeks and it’s not at all clear what this means. Hopefully she’s now been adequately briefed on the issue and understands that her initial comments were poorly considered and that she needs to be more wary of being misled by vocal minorities in NSW Farmers. But of course, it’s entirely possible that behind the scenes, she’s pursuing the environmentally destructive policies that she’s already announced. In an attempt to get some clarity, peak welfare and conservation groups are urgently seeking meetings with Environment Minister Parker but have yet to have had any success in that regards. 

Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney dispersal

The project to evict grey-headed flying-foxes from Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney is now entering a very complex phase. The period from 1st May to the end of July marks the only portion of the year when the Botanic Gardens Trust can actively attempt to remove the bats from the Gardens because it is acknowledged by experts as the time of year when any action against the bats will have the least impact on their breeding cycle. And it’s important to be aware that this does not equate to NO impact, it just represents the LEAST impact. 

BGT appear to believe that 3 months gives them plenty of time to complete the project. In fact they claim that the project should achieve its goals within 2 to 4 weeks of the commencement of the dispersal. These claims are exceptionally optimistic and it's hard to understand what grounds they have for making such bold predictions. 

A cursory review of previous dispersals (including the one in Melbourne in 2003/04 that took six months to move the animals and which BGT claim, somewhat disingenuously, to be a success and a precedent for the Sydney action) indicates that three months is not, in fact, a vast window of opportunity. Rather, it is a period which is very likely to be insufficient for the project to achieve its stated objectives of removing the bats from the Gardens and (more importantly) moving them to alternate and acceptable habitat. It’s finding them a new and suitable roost site, not evicting them from the Gardens, that’s likely to take time. 

It would seem reasonable to suggest that the BGT would want to get the dispersal underway as soon as possible but all the signs are that BGT are some weeks away from being able to actually start the dispersal.  

Why is this? It's impossible to be 100% certain because BGT are playing their cards close to their chests but it seems likely that the delay is related to the "conditions of approval".

Both state and federal government approvals place a number of complex conditions on the project and it would appear that the BGT still has a lot of work to do to before they can claim to have met the conditions of approval and start the actual dispersal.

One of the most complex series of conditions relates to the use of radio tracking collars. We'll go into this issue a bit more in future but the bottom line is that fitting radio collars to a large number of bats is a very complex, expensive and time consuming process. It was difficulties with this aspect of the program that caused BGT to postpone the dispersal project in 2010. 

BGT appear to be having just as many problems this year and we believe that they will, if they haven’t already, apply to the federal government for a variation of the conditions of approval so as to make it easier for them to proceed with the project. Conservation groups have already voiced, to the federal Minister of Environment Tony Burke, their opposition to any variation of conditions that would allow the BGT to break their previous commitments.  Inexplicably, his department allowed a variation of conditions, also relating to radio collars, last year which compromised the objectives of the scientific program and conservation groups are keen to not see the conditions be weakened further by more variations. 

As a side issue to this, a grey-headed flying-fox with severe, life threatening throat injuries recently came into care with a Sydney wildlife care organisation., The injuries were caused by the animal losing weight after a BGT radio tracking collar was fitted around its neck. The weight loss allowed the collar to move around and chafe so badly that the animals jawbone was exposed. 

Dr Tim Entwisle, who until very recently has overseen the dispersal project in his position of Executive Director of the Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust has now moved overseas to take on a role at Kew Gardens in the UK. His replacement is Professor David Mabberley who will take on the role in August. Prof Mabberley appears to have broader experience in the field of biodiversity than Dr Entwisle so it will be interesting to see how he responds to the issue of the flying-foxes. 

Other Issues

A large number of bats in Ku-Ring-Gai flying-fox reserve colony (in the lower north shore Sydney suburb of Gordon) have apparently moved to a new location within the reserve that is increasing the level of conflict with some residents. Even in isolation, this is a concern but if many of the bats evicted from RBG relocate to the Gordon camp (as predicted by BGT), then the conflict could become a real problem. 

A small colony of grey-headed flying-foxes in the Sydney northern-beaches suburb of Avalon is under threat as Pittwater Council intend to trim back vegetation in the camp to an extent that it is unlikely to sustain even a small sized camp. The trimming is in response to the calls by a number of residents who find the bats to be unwanted neighbours. The action will almost certainly be sanctioned by the NSW Office of Environment & Heritage. The Federal Department of Environment will not step in as the camp, numbering only 300 or so animals, does not come into the category of what they consider to be a “significant population”. The current camp footprint is so small that it seems likely that any trimming will result in the animals moving on from the current site (which may of course be the unspoken intent of the action). As always, it’s impossible to predict whether the site they choose as a new roost will bring them into even more conflict with humans.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Welcome to an extinction

For Julia Gillard's party, the passing of Luke Hartsuyker's EPBC (Health and Safety) Amendment Bill 2010 in the Lower House of the Australian Parliament is a bit of an embarrassment because it demonstrates that the Opposition Liberal Party can get enough support to over-ride the wishes of the Australian Federal government. 

But for the grey-headed flying-fox, it's just another step on a gradual but accelerating journey towards what some ecologists consider to be inevitable extinction. If the species is a barometer for the effectiveness of environmental legislation, and the will of state and federal governments to make bold decisions to protect Australia's biodiversity, then it's fair to say that many of our iconic species are, quite simply, doomed.

In 2001, the grey-headed flying-fox was listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth EPBC Act. Listing is meant to provide sufficient protection to the species being listed that the decline in population can be arrested and, hopefully, reversed. But it hasn't really worked out like that for the grey-headed flying-fox. A recovery plan, detailing the measures necessary to affect a recovery of the species, is supposed to be adopted within 6 years of the species being listed. That deadline passed 4 years ago and yet we still have no recovery plan in place (or even a draft that stakeholders can agree on).

The federal government allows grey-headed flying-foxes to be shot as a method of crop protection. Even the most sceptical anti-environmentalist would have to agree that shooting a threatened species is unlikely to be the best way to aid its recovery. Currently, only NSW actually issues licenses to shoot flying-foxes; Queensland banned the practice in 2009 as it was proven to be cruel and inhumane. Despite calls by both farmers and environmentalists for the NSW Government to provide support for netting, which negates the need for shooting, to be installed at farms that are at risk from flying-foxes, Premier Keneally and Environment Minister Sartor have kept their heads down and allowed the shooting, and the decline of the grey-headed flying-fox, to continue unabated. The NSW Liberals have not made their intentions clear in relation to the shooting of flying foxes but few environmentalists in NSW hold out much hope for a bright new way of thinking under an O'Farrell government.

It's not just politicians who are assisting the grey-headed flying-fox on its way to oblivion. Extreme climatic events play their parts quite effectively too. In February 2011 at least 1,300 grey-headed flying-foxes died in the Wingham Brush colony near Taree as a consequence of the prolonged heat and low humidity, conditions which caused fatal heat stress in a large proportion of this year’s juvenile animals. Some 3,000 died under the same circumstances in the Yarra Bend colony in Melbourne last year. Some may seek to diminish the signifiance of these mass mortalities as just being a "natural event" but the reality is that extreme climatic events are happening more regularly and the consequences of them are ever more serious for flying-foxes.

It's now widely accepted that the flying-foxes natural food sources have been badly compromised by excessive rainfall in their seasonal foraging grounds in the last two years. Flying-foxes are nectar and blossom eaters but when the rain is heavy, the nectar gets washed away and the bats have to find alternate food sources or they quite simply starve (or look to commercial orchards as an alternate food source and risk being shot). Many wildlife rescue groups report that the condition of animals coming into their care in the last year or so has been exceptionally poor with many animals 20% below minimum healthy weight.

Habitat loss has forced many flying-foxes to seek shelter in urban environments as these often provide access to more reliable, year around food sources than could be found in rural environments. This adaptation to urban environments brings the flying-foxes into conflict with people and peaceful co-existence is the exception rather than the rule. The Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney is the most well known instance of “not in my backyard” sentiment towards flying-foxes and, in May 2010, then Federal Environment Minister Garrett approved a proposal to disperse the flying-foxes from the Gardens

The approval of the project was challenged in the Federal Court on the grounds that the Minister failed to consider matters that he was obliged to consider. The challenge was dismissed and it would appear that the eviction will go ahead starting in May. The dispersal represents another government sanctioned action which seems to be at odds with the obligation to protect and recover the species. 

In fact more than being a government sanctioned action, it was an action proposed by the state government agency in charge of administering threatened species legislation in NSW. The Botanic Gardens Trust is part of the NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (DECCW). This relationship allows the department that proposed the action to also approve it. 

Which brings us to Luke Hartsuyker’s Bill. The colony of flying-foxes in Maclean has been a source of conflict for many years and Mr Hartsuyker’s Bill seeks to add an amendment to the EPBC Act to exclude the Commonwealth  from any decisions relating to the dispersal of flying-foxes from the Maclean area. The reality is that the majority of politicians that voted in favour of the Bill were probably more interested in embarrassing Gillard than they were in supporting Hartsuyker. And, as a result, one of the most significant pieces of Commonwealth environmental legislation has been undermined for cheap political point scoring. 

If the Bill passes the Upper House and the Commonwealth are excluded from the decision making process, it will be left to NSW DECCW (the department that both applied for and approved the dispersal of flying-foxes from Royal Botanic Gardens Sydney) to determine whether a dispersal at Maclean can proceed. The state legislation is far weaker than the Commonwealth EPBC Act and approval by NSW DECCW of a dispersal of flying-foxes from Maclean is almost a given. 

Looking forward, we can almost certainly see both federal and state politicians making a real and tangible contribution to the decline and inevitable loss of the grey-headed flying-fox. You don’t have to care about flying-foxes to be worried by this trend. If our governments have an inclination to write-off one species, it would be foolish to think that they wouldn’t be inclined to do the same for any other species.

[A previous version of this appeared on Crikey]

Monday, January 3, 2011

On flying-foxes: Homo troglodytus 2010

Who wins the award for publicly uttering the most erroneous, exaggerated and egregious statements about flying-foxes in 2010?

The nominees have much in common. All male, most of them politicians, they each propagate the fallacy that humans cannot live safely or harmoniously with flying-foxes. None demonstrates respect for evidence – the evidence that most people live peaceably with flying-foxes and that flying-foxes represent a low health risk.    

The competition for the Homo troglodytus award is fierce. Our judges have been arguing over the nominations for most of the day. Here now are the top 10 contenders.

PS. For those of you feeling defensive about this vilification of troglodytes, we sympathise with your concern and advise that the term is used for its original Greek meaning of ‘one who creeps into holes’ – because that’s what we think these nominees should do.

The top 10 contenders 
(in alphabetical order)

Ben Callcott, Mayor of Charters Towers

Mr Callcott has been part of a triumvirate of politicians (with Bob Katter and Shane Knuth, both featured below) campaigning against a flying-fox camp in town that has been persecuted in unsuccessful dispersal attempts for about a decade.
  • This has been going on for a long time. We've had a gutful of it and we are deadset sick of the fact that these bats can take over our habitat after all man is the top of the food-chain and hopefully it remains that…   I don't see the RSPCA as a credible body. They are basically city people who don't really understand animals. I've lived with horses, cattle and other animals all my life and I'll tell you that city people don't understand animals at all. They are just soft hearts and everything deserves a place, like when are they are going to legislate against the killing of rats?
Northern Miner, 19 November 2010
  • In previous years, some workers had been taken to hospital to have the insects [alleged mites from flying-foxes] removed, he said. ''The mites adhere to their skin like ticks,'' he said. ''If you attend the park you run the risk of these mites adhering to you. They're an insect-type thing with legs so they're fairly mobile bloodsuckers.'' Cr Callcott said the mites were living on the bats and residents were fearful they could spread disease.
Townsville Bulletin, 23 November 2010

Judges’ comment: Mr Callcott tries hard to portray Charters Towers residents as misunderstood victims of flying-foxes, and city folk as ignorant bleeding hearts. But he apparently is ignorant (or uncaring) of the fact that Brisbane and other cities host numerous flying-fox camps, and that there is nothing special about Charters Towers’ situation or their flying-foxes. People in hundreds of other locations manage to live peaceably with flying-foxes. See here for our previous blog covering some of the absurd claims about the health impacts of Charters Towers’ flying-foxes. 

John Cobb, Federal MP (National Party)

Speaking to Federal Parliament in support of a Bill to disperse flying-foxes from Maclean (introduced by MP Luke Hartsuyker, see below), Mr Cobb made grossly exaggerated claims about the arrival of flying-foxes in Orange.
  • This year, for the first time in living memory, flying foxes invaded Orange. This is an area with very serious apple orchards and fruit orchards to a large extent. The flying foxes inundated it, and all the state government did was allow some people to destroy up to 25. There were 25 million of the damn things around. I have nothing against flying foxes personally, but I do have something against allowing an animal to threaten livelihoods and schools.
Federal House of Representatives Hansard, 25 November 2010

Judges’ comment: According to state and federal environment departments, the total population of grey-headed flying-foxes (the species that was in Orange) is no more than about 400,000. Even by standards of political hyperbole, Mr Cobb's claim of 25 million flying-foxes around Orange is very silly. With counts showing there were only 5,000 flying-foxes in Orange, he was out by a factor of 5,000. He was also wrong about flying-foxes being new to Orange – they were recorded there in the 1970s.

John Davis, Mayor of Orange

Mr Davis claimed that the few thousand grey-headed flying-foxes roosting in Orange were causing great harm in town.
  • Mr Davis said yesterday’s site inspection showed him firsthand the devastation flying foxes caused to the trees they occupied. “The people that have these bats in their yards must be the most patient people in Orange,” he said. “Enough is enough now, they’ve now become prisoners in their own homes and the manure that is covering their yards, houses and cars is a health hazard.”
Central Western Daily, 30 March 2010

Judges’ comment: Flying-foxes roost in hundreds of urban sites in northern and eastern Australia without residents complaining. The colony in Orange was small, hung around for only a few weeks, and was unlikely to have been much of a bother for residents. (We heard that some of them actually enjoyed having bats in town, but it wasn’t something you said publicly.) And, as faecal matter goes, flying-fox faeces is really rather benign, consisting of rapidly digested fruit, nectar and pollen.

Luke Hartsuyker, Federal MP (National Party)

Mr Hartsuyker has run a campaign to rid Maclean of flying-foxes by introducing a Bill into Federal Parliament to approve their dispersal.
  • There has been an invasion of thousands upon thousands of bats around the high school … These flying foxes defecate over the school, its students and its teachers. The smell is revolting and the colony can be extremely noisy. They pose a risk of hendra virus and lyssavirus … And let us not forget the residents living close by. Their homes have become virtually uninhabitable because of the stench and the problems these flying foxes cause and of course a similar situation is occurring at the nearby TAFE.
Federal House of Representatives Hansard, 15 November 2010

Judges’ comment: Mr Hartsuyker is performing political stunts rather than proposing anything practical or helpful. There has already been a decade of unsuccessful dispersals at Maclean. Flying-foxes return each year because of good food resources during the time of birthing and raising young. It’s because of previous dispersals that many more Maclean residents now have flying-foxes roosting close to their houses. The health impacts have been greatly exaggerated. Lyssavirus can only be transmitted via a bite or scratch. Hendra virus is caught from horses, not flying-foxes. Other schools and communities on the east coast of Australia don’t have a problem sharing their environment with a flying-fox camp. The main difference in Maclean is that there are politicians who would rather make a name for themselves than make a difference.

Bob Katter, Federal MP (Independent)

Mr Katter had multiple rants about flying-foxes in 2010, most of them wildly exaggerating the health risks of flying-foxes, and the rest not making any sense.
  • We've got a terrible problem with deadly flying foxes. They're going to kill many more people than taipan snakes do in Australia.
7.30 Report, 22 August 2010
  • We have blood on our hands. We created the conditions that bring flying foxes in plague proportions that allow disease to spread quickly throughout their colonies and entire crops to be destroyed.
North Queensland Register, 11 January 2010
  • They’re dangerous and they’re in plague proportions. … Flying foxes are taking over towns in Kennedy…. Any true conservationist would also call for such a cull if they understood the dynamics of animal populations and put aside emotive arguments.
Agmates 28 May 2010
  • They're not going to go just after her [Kate Jones, Queensland’s Environment Minister] to force her to get rid of the bats, they are going to point out to the minister who is not giving us this permit, that by not giving us this permit, you have placed our lives in jeopardy. And she will be getting a letter from me before the end of this week clearly indicating to her that if anyone dies, then we are prosecuting her for criminal negligence.
Northern Miner, 30 November 2010
  • The 'gan-greeny' point of view is that we've invaded their habitat. Tell the nearest greenie that Charters Towers or Mareeba, prior to settlement was a bio-ecology where gecko lizard would have to take a cut lunch. Joe Moro, a farm leader from Mareeba, said there were farmers whose production was down 30-50 per cent as a result of bats. It's just another nail in the coffin of agriculture in Australia a country which within five years will not be able to feed itself.
Northern Miner, 26 November 2010

Judges’ comment: Mr Katter is weirdly obsessed by flying-foxes. Dangerous? Mr Katter must jump at his own shadow if he genuinely considers flying-foxes dangerous. Government health authorities say there are no health risks from living near a bat camp as long as the animals are not handled (and they make no exceptions for North Queensland). Mr Katter’s claim both that flying-foxes are in plague proportions and that greenies don’t understand population dynamics is embarrassing for him, for in the real world it’s not possible for flying-foxes to form plagues as they only have one young a year. We are also entertained by Mr Katter’s labelling of conservationists as “emotive”: anyone claiming that we have “blood on our hands” and suggesting that flying-foxes are deadlier than taipans might be letting his emotions run away with him.

Shane Knuth, Qld MP (LNP)

Like Mr Katter, Mr Knuth has had a lot of negative things to say about flying-foxes this year. He has vowed that if the LNP wins government in Queensland they will rid Charters Towers of flying-foxes for good.
  • We have to put up with the screeching, the parasites, and the excretion and be subjected to serious viruses they carry. … The minister needs to explain to nursing mums, the elderly and the residents on why they have refused [a permit for helicopter dispersal] while we have tens of thousands of bats living amongst us.
Townsville Bulletin, 16 November 2010
  • If everything else fails, helicopters, you name it, we [a future LNP Government] will cull the bats to ensure we protect the safety of every individual in Charters Towers… When it comes to moving flying foxes, I will guarantee that I will be support the Charters Towers residents, not party politics, we will remove the bats.
Northern Miner, 30 November 2010
  • The sick, the frail and the elderly have had enough of this. We have nursing mums who have hundreds of bats living above their roofs and homes. Would any Minister or Government member who has a child like to have their child living amongst this filth?
ABC, 16 July 2010

Judges’ comment: Mr Knuth’s political priority is to rid Charters Towers of flying-foxes, and he will conjure up any disease or parasite to justify this. Flying-foxes do carry a virus that can make people sick (one person has succumbed), but even nursing mothers need to be bitten or scratched to become infected. Just having bats in the general vicinity won’t do it. Mr Knuth is obviously employing the well-known political tactic of trying to whip up fear in voters against a perceived common enemy that only he can vanquish, if they'll vote him and his party into power. There have been multiple unsuccessful dispersal attempts in Charters Towers. Mr Knuth’s promise to kill the bats in Charters Towers if dispersals don’t work is a sad sign of things to come.

Kurt Kristoffersen (candidate for Clarence Valley Council in 2008 election)

Among numerous outlandish claims, Mr Kristoffersen claimed that flying-foxes are an invasive species from Thailand.
  • The National Parks and Wildlife Service adopted the flying fox in 1980 as a native animal… This has always been debatable as the first recorded sightings of the flying rat were in Thailand in 1912 by Professor Anderson…. It is believed that they migrated to the north of Western Australia and down the west coast and across to South Australia the Barossa and into NSW then QLD. Chromosomal studies by the Carnegie Museum of rodents and bats confirm the Thailand fruit bats and those found in Australia and New Guinea are of the same genetic banding. …  Studies have revealed they migrate similar to rats and behave in the social habits of raping their offspring, decimating their food source and transporting diseases from one next or “colony” to the next. A new colony is formed when a group of females get sick of being raped and find another temporary roost for themselves and their offspring …
Letter to Editor, Clarence Valley Review, 2 June 2010

Judges’ comment: It’s hard to know where to start with these claims as they are all such utter nonsense. Flying-foxes were well-known by Aborigines and recorded by Europeans when they first arrived. The NSW Government has always acknowledged flying-foxes as native animals but did not afford them the same protection under environment laws as other native animals until 1980. Sex is a mutual affair for flying-foxes, with females choosing the males they mate with.

Rob Messenger, Qld MP (Independent)

Mr Messenger has called on both major Queensland political parties “to commit to a public health policy of destroying flying fox colonies in urban areas if they were found to be carrying deadly diseases.”
  • … Mr Messenger said the animals should be eradicated or moved away from urban or populated areas immediately. “You only have to start shooting a few and they’ll go … We’ve got to show some common sense with this menace.”
Bundaberg Mail, 11 December 2010
  • Flying foxes shouldn’t be allowed to roost in urban environments anyway, but if they are then they must be tested for those deadly diseases. If the flying foxes are found not to have any deadly viruses, then of course there is no need to move the creatures, but if they are found to be carrying diseases then peoples lives are at risk.
Media release, 21 May 2010

Judges’ comment: At the risk of being repetitive… Mr Messenger ignores for his political convenience government health advice that living near a flying-fox colony is not a health risk. Shooting bats in urban areas would be far more dangerous than living with bats. Common sense is conspicuously absent from Mr Messenger’s proposal, as it is both unnecessary and impractical (there is no way of testing bats for lyssavirus without killing them all and colonies are not discreet populations).

John Molony, Mt Isa Mayor

Mr Molony was agitating for a permit from the state environment department to disperse a temporary camp of little red flying-foxes from Mt Isa.
  • We've had several complaints from residents about the bats, but we can't move them on until we get the okay from DERM. I personally think they're a pest and DERM needs to cull some of these things because all they're doing is terrorising people and dropping ticks and lice everywhere.
North West Star, 8 October 2010

Judges’ comment: Mr Molony, who runs a clothing shop, is another politician who thinks he knows more than health authorities and biologists about flying-foxes. Ticks? – try dogs; lice? – try children; terror? – try humans shooting flying-foxes.

Malcolm Weatherup, journalist, Townsville Bulletin

The Townsville Bulletin has been an enthusiastic participant in the campaign by Charters Towers politicians to get rid of the town’s flying-fox colony. Here is the contribution from one journalist (aka The Magpie).
  • Listen, mate, what about State Government requirements of State funerals for all flying foxes, accompanied by an honour guard of bats from Premier Blight's own private belfry? What about the mandated 21-rifle salute from a troop of Batburgh's second class citizens (those with two legs and no wings) as the tiny casket is lowered into the tastefully mounded pile of hendra-laced bat guano.
         But of course, the rifles will be pointed at the ground so no stray shot might hit any of the first class citizens hanging in the surrounding trees? … Such nonsense aside, this situation is sheer lunacy of the emperor's-got-no-clothes variety. Ben Callcott could barely disguise his frustration at the PC posing from this distant government so far from reality.
         Even the simperings of the relevant parrot, Sustainability Minister Kate Jones, only added to the sheer battiness of it all. After languidly drifting into town from afar, Minister Jones urged people not to touch dead bats (and to presumably dodge them as they fall dead on to footpaths and backyards).
         So correct The Magpie if he is wrong, but the situation seems to be 'we know it is possible these creatures have a deadly virus, and they're dying in increasing numbers of something, but no, you can't take measures to rid the town of them'.
         Except to say 'shoo'. Add a 't' and you have The Magpie's obvious solution.
Townsville Bulletin, 6 March 2010

Judges’ comment: Does this really pass for journalism in North Queensland? Magpies are known as smart birds – a pity Mr Weatherup doesn’t aspire to this. The flying-foxes in Charters Towers were dying of starvation not disease. Hendra is something that people only catch from horses and guano is not just any old bat-shit – it’s the stuff found in caves where microbats roost. Mr Weatherup appears to subscribe to the “if it moves, shoot it” school of wildlife management. 

And the winner is….

You’ll undoubtedly agree that each of these candidates qualifies for troglodyte status.

The judges have noted, “All nominees have excelled in spreading fear and loathing and avoiding evidence and common sense. For mostly political purposes, they have sought to create a fearsome monster out of a small native mammal, ignoring the experience of most Australians living with flying-foxes that it is no big deal.” 

But our judges have determined there is one standout nominee, head and shoulders above the rest of the field for the sheer volume, ferocity and wild inaccuracy of his statements on flying-foxes. Bob Katter is crowned Homo troglodytus 2010.

So, please creep down a hole, Mr Katter, and stay there a long time. 

We are not alone in recognising Mr Katter for his contribution to nonsense about flying-foxes: "Dispatches from the Edge" recognised him in their "Are you serious?" round up for 2010

As Crikey put it "I'm beginning to think that perhaps Katter's hat might be lined with tin foil"

(More on Katter’s bat wackiness in a future post).