Deadly disease fears as town overrun by bat 'plague'
THE Proston community has been inundated by some rather rowdy and unwanted visitors over the past few months.
More than a million little red flying foxes have taken up residence in town.
The first colony of around 4000 arrived back in March to feed on the local blue and spotted gums.
They have since been joined by another camp of flying foxes and numbers have now reached epic proportions.
The colony is now taking up over a square kilometre of land just a couple hundred metres away from the Proston primary school and town pool.
The South Burnett Regional Council heard the community's concerns on Tuesday night at the final stop on its recent Listening Tour, with a number of residents voicing their worry about the dangers of hendra virus and lyssavirus.
"Community members have already found several sick and dead flying foxes around town including in the school yard, which is only 150 metres away from the colony," local real estate agent and former wildlife ecologist Craig Stephens said.
Australian bat lyssavirus can be transmitted from bats through the transfer of saliva from bites or scratches and can cause serious illness, with three deaths being reported since 1996.
The bats create further complications for the town of Proston when taking into consideration the impact they can have on the equine population.
"The two biggest events this town holds involves horses. The Golden Spurs camp draft and the Proston Show both play host to literally hundreds of very expensive horses. If a horse that hasn't been vaccinated contracts hendra virus because of this colony, the horse would have to face euthanasia," said Mr Stephens.
The flying fox colony also has the potential to begin affecting farms around the region as soon as their Proston food source runs dry.
"We're looking at the implications of these things travelling from where they are now and stripping bare nearby mango and avocado plantations. Once these bats find them and the fruit is ready to eat, there could be huge implications for the town and the region in general."
"The South Burnett Regional Council are working on a management plan that will be released to the community shortly," mayor Keith Campbell said.
"After (the Listening Tour) in Proston the council has decided the best way to deal with these little red flying foxes is to make sure the general public are alerted to the risks these little creatures present."
Mr Stephens says he is concerned appropriate measures won't be taken until someone gets hurt, with Cr Campbell assuring the council will be doing everything in its power to educate people about the flying foxes and how to avoid coming into contact with the viruses.
"This is not the only experience the state government has had with bats and flying foxes, they have both been in plague proportions in other parts of Queensland and we will be drawing on the positive outcomes other regions have had with moving the little guys along," Cr Campbell said.
Proston locals such as Mr Stephens are concerned it could be some time until they see an answer to their pesky flying fox problem.
"We can sympathise with residents but unfortunately the council can not offer an absolute remedy for the flying fox plague. We have to play by the environmental laws that govern us the best we can do is wait for the bats to eventually move on and ensure the public are taking necessary precautions," Cr Campbell said.
Both Mr Stephens and Cr Campbell want to notify residents of a small loop hole in the law if they are dealing with a flying fox problem within their own private property.
"If bats are roosting in a tree in a backyard, residents are able to use their devices to move the bats on, so long as they don't cause any physical hard to them," Cr Campbell said.
When asked what devices work best when it comes to removing these unwanted flying friends from or backyards, Mr Stephens was full of ideas suggesting strobe lighting, loud music, smoke machines and even a bit of good old fashioned bagpipe music has been known to do the trick.
But the former wildlife ecologist warns community members to steer well clear of handling the creatures even if they are sick, injured or dead.
For more information on the little red flying fox and Australian Bat Lyssavirus head to the Queensland Government page here.