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Friends of Bats Newsletter
Winter 2020

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An Important Message from our Editor

Dear KBCS members and friends,
So far it has been a very unprecedented and challenging year for us and our batty friends, going from bushfires, straight into a global pandemic. The pandemic resulting from a spillover event has brought our beloved bats back into the global spotlight, and not in a constructive way for their conservation, making it as important as ever for us to focus on outreach and education. While we have been hunkered down, we have still been advocating for bats and spreading awareness online. 
Although COVID-19 case numbers and government restrictions are ever changing, we have a tentative plan for one of our famous 'meet a bat' nights in November, providing it will be safe to do so, we will bring our education bats down to Gordon as they miss showing off for you!
In this newsletter you can read all about the massive progress that has been made by our Bushcare group and Ku-ring-gai council in repairing and regenerating the Ku-ring-gai Flying-Fox Reserve (KFFR), check on the bat numbers in the reserve, some fun facts about bats and an update on an exciting research project, as well as a nostalgic picture of our first ever edition of  the Friends of the Bats newsletter from 1986!

Education Bats

Although the home of our education bats was temporarily closed during the peak of COVID-19 in NSW, they continued to receive their monthly health checks. During our monthly health checks we check each bat's weight, do a full body assessment which include checking their wings and teeth, just like our human health check ups! On top of this they receive a bat manicure, their nails are clipped and filed to ensure they can manoeuvre around their enclosure freely. These health checks are essential in ensuring our captive bats remain healthy given they miss out on a few things their wild cousins experience, such as flying over 30km a night and wearing their nails down on trees. It also allows bonding with their keepers and ample opportunity for plenty of fruity snacks! The Walk About park reopened in May, so be sure to go and say hello to all the animals who missed you during lock down. 

KFFR Update

As the flying-foxes are not roosting in the reserve this winter our Bushcare group and Ku-ring-gai council were able to plant 1743 plants on the lower slopes without any disturbance to the bats.  More than a dozen people carried all these plants down the steep hill from Edward Street then planted and watered them.  Most  of these plants are protected from wallabies in the fenced off areas. Some figs have been planted outside the fences because they are less likely to be browsed due to their milky sap.  In total 29 different species were planted, mostly rainforest trees with some eucalypts and turpentines.  As Council’s Bushland Technical Officer, Sybylla Brown said, ‘the place is already looking transformed. I think this will go a long way to improving Flying-fox habitat at the bottom of the valley’.
Weather conditions are closely monitored within the camp. Check the live weather update.

The impact of COVID-19 on Bats

Misconceptions and fear around bats is not a new phenomena by any stretch of the imagination, but there is nothing like a pandemic and finger pointing at bats being the cause to strike fear into the heart of any conservationist or bat lover who is already trying to combat the years of decline in bat populations and their habitat loss.
So are bats the cause of this pandemic? And should we eradicate them all to save ourselves like some are suggesting?
While the latter question may sound extreme, Bat conservationist Merlin Tuttle has responded to inquiries from Malaysia asking for the eradication of their bat populations, and calls for this action have come from Indonesia as well, while previous supporters of bat research are worried their association will be looked upon unfavorably. Tuttle argues that bats are the easy culprit for sensational news headlines as they are sampled at much higher proportions given they live in large groups. We won't know for sure if they in fact do carry more diseases until we sample other species proportionally. He suggests instead of vilifying bats or any other species, we adopt some self awareness about our practices in caging and slaughtering wild animals. Living in close proximity to any wildlife increases the risk of spillover events, particularly with increasing habitat loss. Perhaps we need to turn our attention towards addressing the root cause of spillover events and promote habitat and species conservation for healthy ecosystems and people. 
To read Merlin Tuttle's address on Covid-19 and Bats, click here.

Bat Facts
How many bat species are there in the world?

Well, if you ask us, not enough!
Back in 1998 the number of bat species described was 925. Today 1,419 species of bat are recorded on Dr Nancy Simmons, curator-in-charge for the department of Mammalogy at the American Museum of Natural History and colleague, Dr Andrea Cirranello maintain the list of bat species. Nancy Simmons is also a Board of Directors member of Bat Conservation International. In an article in Bats magazine that what fascinates her about bats is their diversity. There are so many different kinds and they are the most ecologically diverse group of mammals on the planet. Want to know more? Read the full article here.

The stinky side of bat research

What is the stinkiest fruit?
When do the flowers of this fruit open?
How is it pollinated?
Who is researching these questions?
How is the researcher financed?

To find out, read the full article from Bat Conservation International.
The first edition of the Friends of Bats was published in 1986 and newsletters have been published quarterly ever since. Download previous issues here

Exciting Research

Some exciting research on bats is underway by Sarah Thorpe from the University of Queensland, thanks to funds donated to Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society. The research aims to find out how different types of  bat cells respond when exposed to viruses such as Hendra virus. By sampling the skin cells of Black Flying Foxes, cells are grown in the lab and induced into a pluripotent state, meaning the cells are not yet differentiated into nerve or skin cells for example. The cells are artificially told what kind of cell to become and then exposed to a virus to examine the effects. This research is still ongoing and is relatively new science which we will bring you more updates on as the research progresses!
Photo credit: Sarah Thorpe

Bushcare group

Funds donated to Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society’s Gift Fund were passed on to Council to employ a contract team to repair and extend more exclusion fences during the Covid-19 lockdown when Bushcare was suspended. KBCS greatly appreciated the assistance of Pierre, now an experienced Bushcarer, who guided the contract team to the areas needing repairs.
The absence of bats in the camp this winter does give the bush regenerators a chance to remove weeds such as madeira vine, palm and cestrum seedlings. On this Bushcare site we are retaining privets and tradescantia to maintain a moist environment for the flying-foxes, while establishing more native tree and shrubs in the exclosures.
Bushcare Volunteer numbers had dwindled to three in recent years but this year we, the old hands, were thrilled to be joined by five new volunteers – Jeanna, Mina, Theo, Cecilia and Shu.
To read more about the work of our Bushcare group and to see pictures of an unexpected and exciting bird sighting within the camp, click here.

An empty reserve for the winter

Monthly counts conducted by volunteers and Ku-ring-gai Council give an estimate of the size of the colony over the years. As you can see we experienced an enormous influx of bats late 2019 and early this year, likely a knock on effect from the the bush fire season. In January 43.000 were counted during fly-out while June saw the camp emptied out for the winter.

Membership Renewal

A big Thanks to everyone who has so far renewed their membership for this financial year. To be eligible to remain on the Register of Environmental Organisations (for tax-deductible donations) our membership needs to be in excess of 50, and the more members we have the more weight is lent to our submissions on environmental issues generally and bats in particular. Membership renewal is simple: Annual fee is $20.00 and can be paid into our Westpac Account BSB 032083, Account No 207854, making sure you tag payment with your name. Donations are always welcome and donations of $2.00 are more are tax-deductible. Donation receipts are emailed at regular intervals during the year. Donations should be paid into our Bat Conservation Gift Fund Account BSB 032083, Account No 207862, tagging payment with your name. (If you are paying membership plus donation, both can be paid in one amount into Bat Conservation Gift Fund). You are welcome to email to advise of your payment and any changes to your contact details.  I will acknowledge all renewals and donations as they are received.

Jocelyn Chenu
Honorary Treasurer
Copyright © 2020 Ku-ring-gai Bat Conservation Society Inc., All rights reserved.