The recent issue about flying foxes, also known as fruit bats, at Batemans Bay in NSW has reminded me my first close encounter with these amazing mammals three years ago at Nitmiluk/ Katherine Gorge National Park, and the dispersal action against them at that time.
It was early June, 2013. On my arrival, the staff told me 30,000 fruit bats were colonising the area including the campsite, and described it as a mess. She suggested me checking out the campsite first to see if I still wanted to camp. Indeed, broken branches everywhere, strong stingy smell from the bats’ droppings went straight through into my nose, and I could see countless bats hanging upside down from almost every single tree. I found a spot the trees were small enough to escape from being occupied by the bats, so I decided to camp.
At the evening, ‘Oh My God’, hundreds if not thousands of fruit bats covered the sky. I was scared at first as I had never seen this large number of bats circling above me. But soon, I was amazed by the perfect design of their bodies. It was delightful to appreciate their semi-transparent wings under the orange-coloured twillight.
At night, the noises they made did disturb my sleeping a bit. When a branch of tree couldn’t stand the increasing weight from additional bats, it would break. Sometimes, the size of a fallen branch was big enough to kill. The towel I hung out also got some ‘souvenirs’ from the bats. Nevertheless, I soon accepted that all were parts of my ‘into the nature’ experience, and I appreciated the moment feeling so close to the nature.
Two days after I arrived, the Park decided to disperse the animals with the reason of ‘safety’ for campers. They placed many barrels of hay under trees, burnt the hay which then gave out continual smoke. The staff also hit the barrels with stick to make very loud noise to scare the animals off. The poor animals shoot off to the sky. I am not sure did it meet the good practice of mitigation, but the dispersal action seemed working, at least for a couple of days. The number of bats in the campsite dropped significantly. The bats were still hanging around nearby within the sight of visitors, but just stayed a bit further away from the campground.
How many years ago before the establishment of the National Park the flying foxes had already been there? They didn’t intrude into our land, but we did. For our back to the nature’s activities, ironically, the Park had to take such actions. I missed the amazing show the bats had displayed in the last two evenings in the campground.
The human-wildlife conflict in Nitmiluk National Park I experienced may not be as bad as the current situation in Batemans Bay. While I acknowledge that the daily lives of the residents there have been affected by the exceptional large population of flying foxes (100,000 grey-headed flying foxes) in the area this year, it may not be a good idea rushing into the proposed $6.2 million dispersal plan out of sentiment. It’ not just a costly plan, but the effectiveness of dispersal plan is also in question. Is it in line with the best practice of mitigation standards? Any possible negative consequences? What are the other options out there? Human-wildlife conflict seems unavoidable. We shall sincerely accept that we humans is just one of the living beings on this planet, we shall not just get rid of other beings we believe they are in our way.