First published on 6 Jun 2012. Updated on 6 Jun 2012.
Somebody please think of the bats!
That’s the cry of those outraged at what’s going down with bats and speakers in the Royal Botanic Gardens. "Bats and speakers?" we hear you ask. Well, allow us to explain for those who’ve been hanging from a high branch for the last week. Monday afternoon saw the beginning of the Royal Botanic Gardens and Domain Trust’s long-awaited flying-fox relocation. After over a decade of trying to shake their shrieking share-mates, whose nesting habits destroy the Gardens’ native and heritage trees, the Gardens’ have been given the go-ahead to crank up the stereo in attempts to harass some 5,000 flying-foxes from their branches.
Their noise harassment tactics – loud and irregular ‘industrial’ sounds like banging, crashing and whistles – will be piercing the skies at dawn and dusk for the next couple of months. It’s enough to send even the most resolute bat packing. But while the action has the approval of the NSW and Federal Governments, it continues to meet opposition and criticism from conservation groups concerned about the welfare of the near-endangered species.
One such concerned conservationist is Tim Pearson, from the Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society, who strongly disapproves of the relocation attempts. He says that whilst there is no doubt the noise harassment will be effective in shifting the bats from their branches, the relocation, or ‘dispersion’ as he refers to it, will cause more problems than it solves for a species threatened by the removal of suitable camps.
“Based on past experiences, we expect that there will be increased stress on the animals, which may lead to a number of conservation issues,” Pearson says. “Although the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) guidelines only allow the dispersals to take place in May through to July, that’s basically the first trimester of pregnancy [flying-foxes generally conceive around late April]; it’s quite possible that many animals will suffer stress related abortions. Disturbing maternity colonies of a keystone threatened species is a very odd way to manage a threatened species.”
Not only does the noise pose a threat, it may not prove effective in the long run. The noise of Monday night and Tuesday morning certainly sent the bats screeching – and anyone on a romantic stroll packing – but Pearson notes that the migratory nature of the animal means that the evacuation will be sporadic: the bats will continue to rock up come spring and summer, in which case the Gardens’ will continue to bring the noise.
“In effect, they’ve been given a license to do yea- round dispersals for the 20-year term of the license,” Pearson says. “It’s totally against the OEH guidelines.”
But Pearson unhappily predicts no end to the relocations, with all legal attempts and appeals by conservation groups failing to make a difference. And while the last couple of days’ rain has hindered the Gardens’ noise harassment, Pearson says that’s no real win for the flying-fox.
“This is a bigger issue than just the number of animals in the Botanic Gardens. If this dispersal is stopped just because of weather or whatever, then it doesn’t send any message other than just, ‘Oh, well that’s bad luck’. The bigger issue is still one of humans seeing that the environment is something separate to them rather than something they’re part of.”