Flying-foxes, the canary in the coal mine, their life and death struggle for survival in a hostile human environment and a warming climate in Australia.
After completing the scientific illustrations for a book on flying-foxes and reading the conservation message in that book, I knew I needed to do more. In 2005 perhaps at the height of my artistic career and after four and half years as artist in residence at Couran Cove Island resort I headed up a busy bat specific rescue group in Brisbane Australia. South-East Queensland is a hotspot for plant biodiversity and home to 3 of the 4 species of flying-fox and over 26 species of microbats. I had been caring for baby flying-foxes and microbats as well as rescuing adult bats from human related causes since 1994. At that time rescues were few but bats were dying on barbed wire fences, electrocuted on powerlines, attacked by dogs as well as many other causes. Many were being left to die and there were not enough rescuers and carers.
Some government agencies and the media were quickly desensitizing the public with biased and poorly researched articles about bats and disease. In 1994 a newly discovered, but rare virus called Hendra Virus was responsible for a spate of horse deaths on the East Coast of Australia. By 2016 tragically 4 people had died after contracting the virus from infected horses. In 1996 Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV) was found to be in <1% of the flying fox population and 3 people have died after a bite from an infected flying-fox. The message to the public not to rescue bats and if bitten to seek medical advice, no further deaths to humans from ABLV have occurred and there have been no deaths of humans since a Hendra vaccine for horses was developed.
By 2007 with a lot of education and effort the volunteer bat rescue group had grown and the free service was performing over 2,000 rescues, caring and rehabilitation around 800 adult bats and raising over 250 baby flying-foxes per annum.
As founder and President Bat Conservation & Rescue Qld it was a major task to try to educate people that bats were ecologically important and a keystone species for forest health as pollinators and seed dispersers in Australia and that they should not be left to die cruel and inhumane deaths. We felt that we were starting to get somewhere in the conservation of bats, both mega and micro and also in the major task of educating the public to their importance.
In 2012 a new state governing party came into office in Queensland. They unfortunately overturned many laws with regard to the protection of Flying-fox colonies in urban environments by allowing local governments to disperse colonies regardless of their breeding status. To this day local councils are still permitted to aggressively disperse a flying-fox colony when females are in their last trimester of pregnancy and when there are baby bats not yet old enough to fly. This treatment of a sentient mammal is abhorrent, cruel and mostly ineffective. Bats returning or moving to another inappropriate location.
In 2014 flying-foxes living along the east coast suffered from a devastating heat event where temperatures rose above 43 degrees Celsius. It was a time of immense despair with over half of the population of flying-foxes in SE Qld dying horrible deaths, akin to cooking from the inside. Future heat events will occur and they will again take their toll on our flying-fox populations while the State Government of Qld still allows the destruction of flying-fox colonies due to human intolerance.
The bats years were a time of immense personal growth, but also a time of acute sadness and disappointment to be unable to procure change in the inhumane persecution of a stunning, intelligent and remarkable animal.
I returned to my art in 2016 with a commitment to help our diminishing precious flora and fauna through my paintings where ever possible. I still have a special place in my heart for bats <3