Von meinem Balkon aus kann ich direkt in die Kronen mehrerer Bäume und Palmen schauen, die sich zum Teil nur wenige Zentimeter von mir entfernt befinden. Aufgrund der Hitze und vermutlich der menschlichen Nähe landen tagsüber nur selten Vögel zwischen den Blättern. Doch am Abend ändert sich das: Sobald die Dämmerung einsetzt, kommen die Flughunde – genauer gesagt: die Brillenflughunde. Meistens höre ich sie, bevor ich sie sehe. Zum einen wegen ihres Gekreisches und zum anderen wegen der Flügelschläge und dem damit oftmals verbundenen Rascheln in den Bäumen. Die Tiere sind auf Nahrungssuche – und da ist sich jeder selbst der Nächste.
Hier in Cairns, im Bundesstaat Queensland, im Nordosten Australiens gibt es mehrere Kolonien, wo man diese intelligenten und so gar nicht angsteinflößenden Tiere tagsüber – mit ausreichend Abstand, um sie nicht zu belästigen – beim Schlafen beobachten kann. Dass sie nun abends ganz von selbst bis auf wenige Meter an uns herankommen, ist jedes Mal aufs Neue eine Freude. Insbesondere, wenn man weiß, wie ernst es um die Art bestellt ist.
Der Brillenflughund ist einer von vier in Australien lebenden Flughunden. Flughunde unterscheiden sich in einigen Punkten von Fledermäusen: Erstens sind sie i. d. R. größer und schwerer, weshalb sie deutlich langsamer fliegen als Fledermäuse. Zweitens haben sie eine hundeähnliche Schnauze sowie Glubschaugen, mit denen sie – im Gegensatz zu Fledermäusen – auch nachts sehr gut sehen können. Daher brauchen Flughunde keine Echoortung, um sich im Dunkeln orientieren zu können. Drittens ernähren sie sich von Pollen, Nektar und Obst, statt Insekten und Tierblut. Dieses duftet nicht nur gut, es kann auch nicht wegfliegen. Weitere Gründe, warum Flughunde keine Echoortung benötigen. Und zuletzt kommen die Tiere v.a. in wärmeren Erdregionen vor, wo es im Winter nicht sehr kalt wird und Winterschlaf, Winterruhe und Winterstarre damit ebenfalls nicht notwendig sind.
Ein weiterer Unterschied, der gerade hier in Australien besonders deutlich wird, ist, dass Flughunde in Bäumen statt wie Fledermäuse in Höhlen leben. Diese befinden sich jedoch aufgrund der Abholzung ihres natürlichen Lebensraumes, dem Wald, sowie der durch den Klimawandel versiegenden Wasserquellen vermehrt in urbanen Gebieten. Das wiederum führt zu Kot- und Urinausscheidungen der Tiere in privaten Gärten und öffentlichen Parks und folglich zu einem gewissen Geruch in der Luft. Hinzu kommt, dass Flughunde, wenn sie in den frühen Morgenstunden von ihrer Nahrungssuche zurückkommen, einen höllischen Lärm veranstalten können, denn um die besten und gleichzeitig wenigen Plätze zum Ausruhen im Baum wird lauthals gestritten. Trotzdem handelt es sich beim Brillenflughund um ein äußerst soziales Lebewesen, das in teils riesigen Gruppen zusammen rastet und schläft.
Der in Nordaustralien, Papua-Neuguinea und Teilen Indonesiens vorkommende Brillenflughund zeichnet sich durch eine helle, brillenartige Fellzeichnung um die Augen herum aus. Der Rest des Körpers, inklusive der Flügel, die eine Spannweite von ungefähr einem Meter erreichen, ist dunkel bis schwarz. Ihr natürlicher Lebensraum ist nicht allzu groß: In Australien kommen sie lediglich in einem schmalen Küstengebiet der zum Weltnaturerbe gehörenden Feuchttropen im nördlichsten Queensland, dem Cape York, vor.
When the animals swarm out at dusk, on the one hand they go in search of food, but on the other hand they also fulfill an essential function for the rainforest: They fly great distances and spread seeds and pollinate flowers – and over a much larger area than Insects. Therefore, they are considered a ‘key species’, because in the local ecosystem this special possibility of distribution by the flying foxes is unique.
In addition to this direct impact on the North Australian wet tropics, spectacled fruit bats also have an indirect impact: many trees depend on seed dispersal and pollination by the animals. A healthy ecosystem depends on these trees. And the wet tropics ecosystem attracts millions of people every year to admire the local flora and fauna. These visitors create a huge tourism market that produces large sums of money and jobs for the local population. Without the flying foxes, the basis of this system is in jeopardy, and in turn has a direct impact on the people who depend on it. Unfortunately, most people here are not aware of this.
The nocturnal flying foxes are not only unpopular with residents in Cairns and other cities, but people are taking action, sometimes illegally, against the highly endangered animals – although, as is so often the case, it is humans who occupy the habitat of the spectacled flying fox and his relatives are reduced enormously, leaving him not too much choice as to where to go.
Although spectacled flying foxes are protected under the “Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999” in Australia and under the “Nature Conservation Act” in the state of Queensland, their population is massively reduced: habitat loss in favor of house building, fires and droughts caused by climate change, agriculture and associated human killings are just some of the threats. Up until 2008, the government sometimes even issued legal shooting licenses to protect crops. The species was classified as “threatened” in Australia and globally by the “International Union for Conservation of Nature” (IUCN), also known as the World Conservation Union, in 2019 and has since been on the Red List of international NGOs. This is the most recent assessment, which at the same time does not include a mass extinction from 2018.critically endangered’ .
Barbed wire fences, power lines, false nets on the orchards, as well as accidents with cars and attacks by cats and dogs are other sources of danger for the animals. In addition, the flying foxes here in tropical north Australia can be infected by ticks with deadly viruses against which they have little resistance. Young animals that grow up clinging to their parents often become orphans due to what is known as tick paralysis when the parent animals fall from the tree paralyzed. As a result, they can injure themselves or remain unprotected on the ground. In addition, young animals are often left behind when people in the immediate vicinity of the trees, consciously or unconsciously, cause too much unrest and thus expose the fruit bats to an enormous level of stress.
All this combined with a low reproduction rate leads to a worrying decimation of the species in the long term.
Another reason why flying foxes are very unpopular with humans is the possible transmission of rabies through the animals. You can carry the lyssavirus (ABLV), but it can only be transmitted through untreated deep skin bites or scratches. Research from the 2000s suggests that only around 1% of fruit bats carry the virus. Around 7% of sick and injured individuals carry the virus.
People who are more likely to come into contact with injured animals lying on the ground are advised not to touch flying foxes. Why? Because infected animals show behavioral changes such as aggression, paralysis, or seizures that can lead to people or pets being bitten. If you are not vaccinated and come into contact with an animal, it must be tested for rabies to rule out infection. This usually results in the animal dying.
In Cairns there are two nationally recognized camps, which are huge colonies where the fruit bats congregate during the day and take shelter in the trees. One of the two in the heart of the city was decimated by 11 trees used as sleeping quarters by the Novotel Oasis Resort in 2015 – with the permission of the local council and the national government. In their place are now said enlarged resort, another hotel and the Cairns Aquarium. Across the street, right next to the library, two time-honored trees were felled as well. A total of 25 out of 38 roost trees were felled.
Source Thousands of spectacled flying foxes returning from their prey encounter faced bare terrain and had to squeeze into the existing trees. Eyewitnesses reported that in this case the Code for the Protection of Animals in Resettlement Projects was also violated, as trees were felled that still contained animals. Flying foxes cannot be guided to other areas in a controlled manner either – after all, they are wild, flying animals. This means that they have to look for new places to sleep. Corresponding studies have shown that flying foxes do not fly further than 6 km in such cases and the residents probably feel disturbed at the new location too. So the ‘problem’ was not solved, but merely relocated in an uncontrollable manner.
As already mentioned, a medium-sized catastrophe occurred in Cairns in November 2018, when three days of extreme temperatures led to such heat stress in the spectacled flying foxes that an estimated one third of the population, around 30,000 animals, suffocated and died of thirst! Although the government then created a so-called heat stress contingency plan to be able to act in a new case, it is surprising that its “objective” says first: Effective management of the danger to the community. There is nothing to be found in the objective about the protection of the species.
If you take a look at the Australian government’s protective measures, you will generally be bitterly disappointed if you should expect them to be large and commensurate with the threat of the situation: they are observed, controlled and informed, but not much is actively done by the government, although various animal protection organizations demand this explicitly and with good reason. More protected areas and renaturation projects with active management and control bodies would have to be created. There should be political regulations to protect animals that place high demands on the private sector. More research would have to be invested in order to implement an effective action plan to save the species and much more. But none of this is happening.
So what is happening in Cairns to protect the spectacled flying fox? Well, not much. According to estimates, the ‘camp’ at the library currently houses around 10-12% of the entire stock in Australia, including around 2000 young animals each year. The Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management’s stock recovery plan, which went into effect in 2011, was flawed in content and ineffective as a whole, and as a result has achieved next to nothing. It also expired on October 1, 2021 and there is no successor plan – it is not a priority for the local council.
Otherwise, there is no plan in which the fight against the danger to the spectacled flying fox is discussed. In addition, local governments have the power to disperse and relocate camps in the cities where the animals live, in compliance with the aforementioned code and using non-lethal measures. These “non-lethal measures” include the use of pyrotechnics, as well as exposure to light and loud noise – in other words: the animals must not be killed, but they may be stressed and strained to the point that it is a bit modern torture reminded. The fact that no concrete wounds are inflicted and that the resettlement is being carried out by “experienced experts” seems to be sufficient justification on the part of the government.
So are the animals protected or not? Exactly one sentence can be found here on the official website of the Australian state: Fruit bats are classified as protected wild animals in Queensland under the “Nature Conservation Act 1992”.
So I dare say that the final answer, despite much effort from animal welfare organizations and civil society, is “no” – plain and simple. It is tragic to see how little respect and appreciation these enormously important animals have from the political, economic and civil society side.
One more reason why I am happy every evening when the first spectacled flying foxes land in the trees next to our balcony. When they shimmy along the branches like little monkeys to nibble on their fruit. When one flies on because the next one is already approaching. Watching them eat, fly or hang upside down in a tree is just fascinating and wonderfully relaxing for me. It breaks my heart every time I think about their situation and wonder if I would still see the spectacled fruit bats if I came back to this place in ten years.
TAKE ACTION – change.org petition