In the middle of January this year  there was a heat wave which, as well as stressing our human population, many species of animals were stressed as well. It was the first time in Bendigo since the Grey-Headed Flying-foxes [GHFF] first settled in the fernery at Rosalind Park that we were able to observe how they fared. It is believed that about 85 GHFF’s died during the heat stress, which is approximately 10% of those present in the Bendigo colony at the time. Almost all these were juveniles. It is assumed that in being very young they had not yet developed the ability to cope with excessive heat. Observations suggest that they start fanning their wings and panting when temperatures get to the mid 30’s, but this is a normal cooling mechanism and doesn’t necessarily suggest that they are distressed. The cumulative stress of several consecutive days of extreme heat seems to have been the critical factor in the Bendigo colony – Monday was 39C, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday were 43C and Friday was 40C. Most deaths occurred on the Wednesday and Thursday. Eleven GHFF’s were taken to wildlife shelters, a further 4 died at the triage area and another 4 were released on the day of capture following rehydration therapy.
A number of dedicated WRIN members attended the area at different times over the heat wave in an effort to help the DEPI team which had set up the triage area at the entrance to the fernery. The DEPI team, headed by Karly Loughnane and Brady Childs was very professional and caring providing shelter, drinks and food to volunteers as well as advising on safety measures to follow and what appropriate clothing should be worn to avoid any scratches from the flying foxes, they also stressed the importance of the volunteers being immunised against the Lyssa virus. The team took extensive notes and statistics. Being the first time a heat event like this had been experienced a lot was learnt and will help to clarify how processes for future events will have to be managed.
On a personal note, I took home 5 young GHFF’s and they were kept in care for about 6 weeks until they were considered strong enough to be released back into the Rosalind Park fernery with the rest of their group. Also by then the weather was a lot cooler. Their diet consisted of apples, grapes, watermelon and cantaloupe. As I had no previous experience with caring for GHFF’s before, I was often on the phone to Bev Brown in Melbourne for advice. Bev is a well respected and knowledgeable carer of GHFF’s and was very helpful to me. On the hot days it was a full time job spraying the flying foxes with cool water to prevent further stress. They are wonderful little characters and I loved every minute of caring for them as well as learning a lot about them.