Tatura walking track might close to protect bats

By Thomas Moir

In the past five years, Greater Shepparton City Council has witnessed the emergence, the yearly increase and decrease, of a population of flying foxes in Tatura’s Cussen Park.

What has followed, in response, has been described as ‘‘a real learning experience’’ for the council about the creatures and how best to manage and protect them.

While Cussen Park’s flying fox population is estimated at between 200 and 250, it is expected to take flight in the coming months.

The council says this population usually increases from February to May each year.

Council estimates it has reached as high as more than 10000 in recent years.

Environment manager Greg McKenzie said the colony was the council’s first experience with the flying foxes.

‘‘We need to learn how they operate, how we can best protect them,’’ he said.

He said their emergence had unfolded in the past five to six years.

But up until about two or three years ago, he said their numbers were not problematic.

A couple of years ago, Mr McKenzie estimated the numbers had reached between 12000 to 14000 at its highest.

‘‘It was then we had to really start to think about how to make this work,’’ he said.

Typically, he said each year the population started to build up about February, with numbers peaking in May or June.

But in the past two years the council has also noticed an ongoing population.

‘‘They used to disperse totally, then come back the following February,’’ Mr McKenzie said.

‘‘The last two years, a population remains at the park the whole time.’’

Mr McKenzie believed Cussen Park offered the creatures native vegetation, water availability and good feeding.

In response to the possible population increase, the closure of a track is being considered to help ensure the protected species remain undisturbed, do not take flight to less ideal locations and mitigate potential risks to park visitors.

The council last year was forced to close the northern loop track.

The track remains open at the moment.

But the top half of the park’s northern loop has recently had the addition of a new fence in response to the flying foxes.

Mr McKenzie said the closure of the loop path may be required to prevent disturbance of the camp.

‘‘It also minimises the chance of people and pets coming into direct contact with the flying foxes, which carries a health risk,’’ Mr McKenzie said.

The fence aims to protect people from the flying foxes and give them peace.

‘‘We believe where they’re currently roosting is an appropriate site,’’ he said.

The Cussen Park population consists mainly of grey-headed flying foxes.

Tatura residents may hear the flying foxes feeding in the trees at night.

Council asks residents to observe any path closure signs and to not disturb or handle the flying foxes, as some diseases carried are transmissible to humans, such as the Australian Bat Lyssavirus.

The virus is only transmitted through being scratched or bitten by a flying fox.

‘‘If bitten or scratched, please wash thoroughly and seek immediate medical treatment,’’ the council advised.

Grey-headed flying fox are protected by law, listed as vulnerable under the Commonwealth Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 and the Victorian Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act.

Mr McKenzie said the council hoped to host an information evening on the flying foxes.