Flying fox deaths raise public health threat as residents are forced to do the clean-up themselves

There are fears the deaths of thousands of flying foxes at colonies in and around Cairns has created a public health crisis beyond the threat of lyssavirus.

The spectacled flying foxes began dropping out of the trees on Monday, with their organs shutting down, unable to cope with temperatures above 40 degrees.

Wildlife rescuers have been working around the clock, using spray bottles and drippers to cool and hydrate them and now have hundreds in care.

However, flying foxes that haven’t been able to be saved are now beginning to rot.

Edmonton resident Pip Schroor told Tropic Now the colony there has been decimated and there are dead bats everywhere, turning her place into a house of horrors.

“We’re talking acres and acres of dead bats.

“Last night I drove my kids to Gordonvale to stay with friends because the smell was coming through the air cons and burning our skin, so my walls and sheets are impregnated with the smell.

“They’re maggot-ridden and there’s blood dripping from the trees.” 

“Yesterday I had maggots all over our floor and I couldn’t figure out where they were from but we probably have dead bats on our roof," she said.

“It’s a horror movie and it's been a horror movie since Monday.”

Ms Schroor said she’s concerned about the health implications.

“My kids cannot sleep here and I’m concerned now about the snakes and flies and wild dogs that will be attracted by the bats.

“It’s at crisis level.”

Another Edmonton local, Lisa Eagleton, told Tropic Now she was angry that residents have been left to do the clean-up themselves.

“We have had a little bit of help from the Council but only to provide bins and bags.

“Everybody else has palmed us off, the National Parks and Wildlife Service, Biosecurity Queensland, Queensland Health.

“Nobody would touch us," she said.

“The only agency that would get on the ground was Abriculture and they’ve had Gimuy Rangers assisting since Tuesday.”

Ms Eagleton thanked the volunteers who responded to a social media call-up to help with the clean-up.

She said they've not only worked in the heat but in stomach-churning conditions.

“We had to have masks and people were throwing up, they were gagging and there’s been no assistance, everyone’s palmed us off.

“It’s just horrific and it’s like nobody cares,” she said.

A Cairns Regional Council spokesperson said it is assisting wildlife carers with the collection of deceased flying foxes.

“Council is working with University of NSW to collect and freeze a number of the deceased flying foxes for use by researchers who are studying heat stress on the animal.

“It’s hoped that this will increase understanding of the impact of heat stress on flying foxes to inform improved management of colonies in extreme conditions," the spokesperson said.

“Sprinklers have been operating at the City Library roost in an attempt to reduce the impact of the heat on the flying foxes in the library colony.”

“Members of the public are reminded not to touch fallen or injured flying foxes.”

Dr Richard Gair, Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service’s Director of Public Health, told Tropic Now the main threat to public health remains disease.

“Dead bats present a health hazard as they may still be infectious with Australian bat lyssavirus.

“The health advice for anyone cleaning up dead bats is ideally they should have had a full course of vaccination for rabies, they should wear adequate personal protective equipment and use a shovel, rather than using their hands,” he said.

Lisa Eagleton said she’s been taking precautions but has been both bitten and scratched.

“I have no choice but to get in there and do it because they are in my backyard and we have pets, we have children," she said.

“We need help.”