Protecting bats from extreme heat

Wednesday 27 July, 2022

Dusk and dawn, a vast colony of bats makes its way across Melbourne and surrounds from its home in Yarra Bend Park to feed on pollen and nectar of eucalypt blossoms and other native hardwood blossoms.

Efforts to preserve and support these endangered Australian grey-headed flying foxes are about to enhanced.

Funded by $180,000 from the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning (DELWP) and delivered in collaboration by Parks Victoria, Melbourne Water, Yarra Bend Golf, Wildlife Victoria and Zoos Victoria, will be the construction of a world-first, permanent and bespoke watering system designed to alleviate heat stress for the large colony of bats at Yarra Bend Park.

Climate change poses a serious threat to these flying foxes. Bats cannot regulate their heat like we can, which makes them vulnerable extreme weather.

Temperatures over 38 degrees can cause heat stress and deaths. In 2019, 3000-5000 bats died during a heatwave. Volunteers and Parks Victoria staff had to remove dead and wounded animals and hand-rear orphaned young.


Up close and personal with a Grey Headed Flying Fox in Yarra Bend Park.

Grey-headed flying foxes at Yarra Bend Park. Credit: Parks Victoria

Area Chief Ranger Brendan Sullivan explains more: “The best way to think of it is as a massive evaporative cooler that will lower the ambient temperature in the colony,” he says. “The system will challenge even the most experienced engineer: water must be drawn from the Yarra into the colony and the system needs to reach the eucalypt canopy 11 metres up, covering three and a half hectares.”

Trials over the last few years have shown the bats quickly get used to the water. An electric pump and generator will power the system with a minimum of noise.

Bats plays a vital role pollinating and dispersing seed for many native forests across the east coast of Australia. Like many native mammals, these bats are endangered, and the recent State of the Environment report has called for more to be done to protect and support them.

Known as a ‘satellite colony’, these bats have already had to settle a long way from their preferred habitat on the central NSW coast and face threats from habitat destruction, introduced predators and disease.

“This is going to be a game changer for this colony and for our management. There has been a lot of good work and collaboration between everyone working with the same goal: to look after the grey-headed flying foxes. We’ve caused so much damage to these bats, it’s great to be able to do something that’s going to be of benefit for them,” Brendan Sullivan says. 

Protecting this important habitat and refuge for the flying foxes will ensure that Yarra Bend Park continues to offer a unique wildlife experience for visitors, within 4km of Melbourne CBD.


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