Banishing The Bats

Fruit Bats by webmink
Fruit Bats, a photo by webmink on Flickr.

In the centre of Sydney, the Botanical Gardens provide a welcome oasis from the city life. Each time I have been to Sydney I’ve taken time at some point to walk slowly round the gardens, see the Wollemi pine, stalk cockatoos and ibis on the lawns (where they are commonplace) and generally chill out.

A favourite stop on the tour is the flying fox camp, where there are a very large number of flying foxes (fruit bats) roosting in the botanical gardens year-round. It’s not an intentional attraction. The bats just showed up to feed on the fruit trees and decided they liked the place as much as I do and would stay. The population has grown and grown over the years and there is definitely no shortage of them – there are around 20,000 in this one roost!

As the Gardens’ own web site explains, they are an endangered and protected Australian species. But looking at the enormous colony in the Gardens would not give you that impression. They are noisy, smelly, bad-tempered creatures who fight a bit and sleep a lot by day as they roost and then go party at night. They are not respectful of their home, though. They are killing rare tree specimens in the Gardens.

This situation provides conservationists with an excruciating choice. On the one hand, the bats are killing the trees in the Botanical Gardens, many of them rare and valuable specimens. On the other hand, the bats are a protected species. Both deserve (and in law are given) protection from harm. But what happens when a protected species harms protected plants? Which should win?

It seems the conservationists’ struggle may finally be coming to an end. Next month the Botanical Gardens is due to attempt to relocate the colony in a move that’s both controversial and (to my eyes at least) only partially baked. The animals are going to be scared away with noise-makers and expected to just go somewhere else. Guards will be posted to eject unwanted bats just like any other out-of-hours visitors. Exactly where 20,000 bats the size of cats will go in the densely urbanised landscape of Sydney is anyone’s guess. Certainly no-one has asked the bats, who are likely to find the cozy home with the well-stocked larder just as appealing as ever.

So who knows. Maybe the bats will scram. Or maybe my next trip will still have a visit to see the flying foxes of Sydney Botanical Gardens.

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About Simon Phipps

Grizzled geek with eclectic tastes. Fanatical about freedoms, manic about music, radical regarding religion, particular about politics.
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