Alternative management of problem flying-fox roosts in North Queensland

Overview

The Alternative Management of Little Red Flying-fox Roosts project will conduct scientific research and analysis on the ecology, behaviour and management of little red flying-foxes (Pteropus scapulatus). Its products and recommendations will be used to improve flying-fox management in urban areas, particularly in north Queensland.

The project is part of the Queensland Governments' $2.7 million Reduce Flying Fox Conflict Program, initiated to improve the management of problem urban flying-fox roosts in North Queensland.

The research will be conducted over three years by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in partnership with the department and other partners.

Cluster of little red flying-foxes. Image courtesy of CSIRO.

Cluster of little red flying-foxes. Image courtesy of CSIRO.

Queensland's flying-foxes and interactions with humans at urban roosts

Four flying-fox species, the black, grey-headed, little red and spectacled flying-fox, are commonly found in Queensland. All are protected under Queensland legislation. The grey-headed and spectacled flying-fox are also listed as vulnerable under Commonwealth environmental legislation.

Little-reds are the smallest of Queensland's four main flying-fox species, but they often form the largest colonies. Blossoms and nectar are their main food sources, and they frequently travel long distances each night to find them. When roosting in large numbers in urban areas, they create significant noise, smell, droppings and tree damage, at times resulting in considerable community angst.

The majority of urban complaints arise from permanent flying-fox roosts and particularly those affected by large seasonal influxes of little red flying-foxes. At locations such as Charters Towers, the seasonal influx of up to tens of thousands of animals creates conflict between flying-foxes and humans.

Most little red flying-fox complaints relate to the droppings, noise, smell and the perceived risk of disease near urban roosts.

Reports in the media often overinflate the risk of flying-foxes spreading potentially lethal diseases to humans and domestic animals and in doing so create high levels of public anxiety. The risk of contracting diseases from flying-foxes is extremely low. To further minimise risk, flying-foxes should only be handled by people with suitable training and equipment.

Purpose of the project

The basic questions asked by the project will be:

  1. How many little red flying-foxes are there?
  2. Where do they come from and go to?
  3. Why do they come and go?
  4. Why do they come to urban/peri-urban areas?
  5. What can we do to reduce conflict with humans?

What is known about little red flying-foxes

Little red flying-foxes are highly nomadic, following the seasonal flowering of eucalypts and melaleucas. Unlike other flying-fox species, little reds mostly eat native tree blossom as opposed to fruit. They roost in large numbers - often 100,000 or more - and typically stay 4 to 8 weeks at a site. They are found right across northern Australia, and seasonally in New South Wales and Victoria (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Distribution of little red-flying foxes

Figure 1: Distribution of little red-flying foxes.

In general we know very little about this species. Most of what we believe about their general behaviour and biology is based on studies of other flying-fox species. This is why this research is so important.

The project

The department will work with CSIRO to:

  1. Identify and monitor little red flying-fox roosts
  2. Describe their movement patterns
  3. Survey the distribution and dynamics of their food resources
  4. Identify the features of urban and other environments that attract flying-foxes, and
  5. Review the effectiveness of roost management methods.

CSIRO scientists will fit little red flying-foxes with satellite transmitters to track their movements so we can better understand their roosting preferences, and the factors that influence their roosting behaviour.

Most transmitters will be fitted in Charters Towers in small batches over three years. Transmitters will be attached to mature animals by a collar that is designed to fall off after approximately three months. The collars and transmitters have been successfully trialled for animal health and safety performance and their use for this project has received animal ethics committee approval.

In addition to identifying roosts and movement patterns, satellite telemetry will enable the CSIRO to record and analyse when, where and what little reds feed on. This in turn will inform us about the relationship between major flowering events and movement patterns, and the potential for predicting little red flying-fox movements and numbers.

Roosts and feeding areas revealed by satellite telemetry will be confirmed on-ground, and the numbers and species of flying foxes recorded. Major tree species and key landscape characteristics will be identified at roosts and feeding areas. On-ground work will be conducted by departmental staff, the CSIRO, Indigenous Land and Sea Rangers and local governments. Assistance from volunteers who would like to be involved is welcomed.

How you can help

There are a range of participation opportunities available in this project, at a range of skill and commitment levels (figure 2).

  1. Report and record: Tell us when and where you see roosts, fly outs, or major feeding or flowering events. Tell us the location and street address, map grid reference and/or GPS location, the species involved and send a photo if you can.
  2. Share information on historical approaches used in your local government area to manage urban flying fox roosts, including outcomes.
  3. Join us in regular flying-fox roost surveys of your local camps.
  4. Partners of the program can assist with detailed roost and feeding area assessment.
Figure 2 Options for participating in the project

Figure 2: Options for participating in the project.

The project and other flying-fox monitoring in Queensland

Flying-fox monitoring is hampered by the unpredictable, widespread and nomadic nature of most flying-fox populations. To obtain more realistic population and location information for all species, Queensland along with other eastern Australian states, the Australian Government and the CSIRO, participate in the National Flying Fox Monitoring Program (NFFMP). The NFFMP coordinates consistent monitoring and reporting of a large proportion of flying-fox roosts nationally.

Flying-fox roost monitoring in Queensland has been focussed on problematic, large and accessible roosts, as well as those of listed vulnerable species. Little red flying-foxes are not well represented. This project will draw on the NFFMP and enhance its capacity by contributing substantial data on this previously little-known species that overwinters in Cape York.

Contact us

Please contact us if you are interested in providing information on little red flying-fox roosting and foraging, the history of roost management, or to participate in regular roost monitoring. We need details of roost locations and their boundaries, photographs of flying-foxes and the vegetation they occur or forage in, and counts of flying-fox numbers.

To learn more about little red flying-foxes read our living with seasonal flying-foxes fact sheet (PDF, 506.0KB) .

Log your interest in participating by emailing .

To learn more about the NFFMP data collection and mapping visit Monitoring Flying-Fox Populations.