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Legislative Approach to Reducing Pteropodid Damage to Crops


Australia has 13 species of pteropodids, seven of which are flying foxes. Some are listed under the federal government's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act 1999 and several state wildlife protection laws.

Flying foxes became protected species in the State of New South Wales (NSW) in 1986 under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Since then, farmers and fruit growers have been required to obtain licences from the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) in order to shoot flying foxes to protect their crops (Waples 2002). Licences are granted only when a NPWS representative has visited the orchard to inspect and assess whether the damage is severe enough to warrant culling (Comensoli 2002). Each licence allows a maximum of 50 flying foxes to be shot, and no more than two licences can be granted per landowner per season. Licence holders are required to submit reports on actual numbers of flying foxes killed (Waples 2002). However, in practice, this licensing system is far from perfect, as compliance monitoring and enforcement are neither practical nor feasible, and therefore, records can be unreliable (McLachlan 2002; Waples 2002; Thiriet 2010).

In 2001, the NSW government changed the listing of the grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) from Protected to Vulnerable under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (Eby and Lunney 2002). This resulted in negative reactions from the commercial fruit industry (e.g. Biel 2002; Bicknell 2002; Bower 2002; Comensoli 2002; Thiriet 2010), as it meant that even if shooting of the threatened species were still permitted for crop protection, it would be subject to a tighter licensing system, resulting in socio-economic repercussions, particularly for small growers (Bower 2002; Comensoli 2002; Ullio 2002; Waples 2002). The state government subsequently continued to allow shooting of the species for crop protection (Thiriet 2010). However, at the time of writing, the NSW government has now banned shooting of flying foxes as an orchard control method (G. Richards, unpublished).

In July 2011, in order to eliminate the need to issue shooting licences and to mitigate flying fox damage to crops, the NSW government introduced a AUD

5 million scheme to subsidise the cost of installing netting for commercial orchardists in the Sydney Basin and Central Coast regions, where impacts occur every year. Once a netting subsidy has been received, the orchardist is no longer eligible for a shooting licence for the netted area of the property. Subsidies are intended to meet half the cost of installing netting and are capped at AUD 20,000 per hectare. Orchardists are responsible for all ongoing maintenance and replacement costs. Not only are flying foxes (and parrots) excluded from the fruit crops, but hail damage is also reduced. This often means that the cost of netting is recovered in the season following its installation. Because netting in now subsidised, from July 2015, licences to shoot flying foxes as a crop protection measure will only be issued where damage to orchards is the result of special circumstances

(e.g. the orchard is on terrain too steep to net). The issuing of such licences will eventually be phased out.

P. poliocephalus and the spectacled flying fox (P. conspicillatus) were listed as Vulnerable under the EPBC Act 1999, in 2001 and 2002, respectively. One year after its federal listing, P. poliocephalus was also listed as Vulnerable in the State of Victoria. Neither the little red flying fox (P. scapulatus) nor the black flying fox (P. alecto) is listed as threatened under any Australian legislation, and the State of Queensland has yet to list any flying fox species as threatened (Thiriet 2010).

In 2002, the State of Queensland banned the use of electric shocks for crop protection, though this was on grounds of animal cruelty rather than conservation. Prior to this, orchardists could receive a damage mitigation permit for electrocuting flying foxes on overhead grids. The use of such electric grids to kill a keystone species was later found to be in breach of the EPBC Act 1999 (which had led to the listing of P. conspicillatus), although this was construed as a negative impact on the world heritage values of a nearby Wet Tropics World Heritage Area rather than a biodiversity conservation issue. Shooting of P. poliocephalus and P. conspicillatus was still allowed for the purpose of crop protection, with an annual limit of up to 1.5 % of the lowest agreed national population estimate for the species. A quota of 30 animals per orchardist per month was implemented. However, in 2008, the state banned all shooting of flying foxes, again due to concerns over animal cruelty (Thiriet 2010).

In 2012, Queensland reintroduced shooting of flying foxes causing damage to commercial fruit, including P. poliocephalus and P. conspicillatus. However, shooting quotas for these two species are less than for the little red and black flying foxes, P. scapulatus and P. alecto. Fruit growers require permits to shoot, which are granted only if they can prove that non-lethal methods of control have failed. Such permits allow the use of shotguns and heavy shot on stationary but not on flying bats. Clear X-ray evidence in Australia (Richards et al. 2012; Divljan et al. 2009) and palpation of lead shot in live and dead bats in Madagascar, the Seychelles (P.A. Racey, unpublished) and Mauritius (V. Tatayah, pers. comm.) reveal that the use of shotguns results in wounding and is inhumane, because death is not instantaneous. Also, Thiriet (2010) pointed out that some bats that are shot may be lactating, and their young left behind in the colony will eventually starve to death. Shotguns were however banned in the Seychelles in the 1970s. The toxic effects of lead shot have been well documented for birds (Mateo 2009), and it is likely to have similar effects in bats.

In both Queensland and NSW, there has been very little (if any) monitoring by relevant authorities of numbers of bats shot in orchards. The only known scientific study was conducted near Sydney in 2007 (Divljan et al. 2009). Over a 140-day period, a total of 164 dead or injured flying foxes were collected and data were compiled from 136 carcasses. Eighty or so bats per week exceeded the number allowed by permits. The sex ratio was strongly skewed towards females (1:1.73), of which 54 (65 %) were lactating at the time. Thirteen of these were shot while carrying their dependent young, while 41 pups would have been left behind in the roost to die. Hence, the total estimate of flying foxes that died due to shooting in the orchard over the two-week period was 205. Collected bats suffered from various injuries, and at least 30 % (44 % including the pups left in the camp) were alive and unattended more than 8.5 h after shooting (Richards et al. 2012). This is in contravention of the definition of 'humane killing' and the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979.

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