Here's the facts on flying foxes
By Liz Moore columnist for Noosa Journal January 2012
How qualified are our political representatives to make the calls they do?
Last year, it was Caloundra MP Mark McArdle calling for a cull of our native bat population. Now it’s another Coast representative, Peter Wellington, using his position in Parliament to suggest the same thing.
And there have been too many other gung-ho political exterminators peddling the same deadly line in between.
But do they seriously understand what it is they’re suggesting?
Have they researched or even just looked at the science behind their supposed Hendra virus solution, or are they willing to endanger ecosystems on purely political grounds?
Have they spoken to experts in the field, such as scientist Dr Les Hall, who has studied the native creatures for more than 40 years? Though he lives just up the range, in Maleny, it would seem not.
So, at the risk of getting bogged down in details and, heaven forbid, facts, I thought I’d start with Dr Hall and ascertain how a scientist might judge the culling call.
``People don’t get Hendra from flying foxes, and as far as I’m aware, horses don’t get it from them either,’’ Dr Hall says.
``This is contrary to what you’ll see written and put in the literature, but I have not seen a proper peer-reviewed paper that’s shown how to transfer the virus from a flying fox to a horse. They’ve tried for 15 years to do it, and they haven’t been able to.
``There’s Hendra in flying foxes, so that’s a good starting point, but good science says you start where the problem is and work backwards. They’ve got it around the wrong way.’‘
Dr Hall points out that Hendra outbreaks occur largely in well-cared-for thoroughbred horses that are kept in stables and on supplementary feed ``not the Netty out in the paddock under the flying foxes all night’‘.
``When there’s an outbreak here, like this latest one at Tewantin, do they check pussycats or rats or any other creatures?’’ he asks rhetorically. ``Sure, there are flying foxes around that part of the world, but what other animals did they check that are near the stables?’’
Dr Hall says that because horses have shown different symptoms, there may be different routes for the virus.
``Once it was a respiratory problem, now it’s a nervous problem. This may reflect whether it’s a tick or a mosquito carrying it. We’ve got to go back to the horse and see if it will lead to a flying fox or somewhere else.’‘
The senior author of Flying Foxes and Fruit Blossom Bats of Australia says it may be as simple as a tick that’s fed on a flying fox, which has then been dropped and found its way on to a horse.
``If they continue to blame the flying fox, I doubt they’ll ever solve the problem,’’ he says.
And here’s a scientifically sound challenge for the gung-ho MPs calling for the culling: ``Instead of calling for a cull, they should be calling for money to help fund some research into flying foxes.
``If you’ve got to kill an animal because you can’t handle what it’s doing to your crop or whatever, it means you’ve been outsmarted by them.’’