Why do humans think they own the planet? Are we as a species so ignorant of basic ecology that we would continuously deprive the very creatures who make the forest of anywhere to roost? It is frightening to watch this attitude balloon into what could potentially be not only suicidal but ecocidal.
After Hendra virus was found in a Queensland dog recently, and a total of 14 HeV infected horses died or were put down since June 20 this year, Queensland opposition Liberal National Party (LNP) leader Campbell Newman suggests smoke bombs and choppers to evict urban bat colonies then the roosting trees should be cut down. Failing what he refers to as 'humane relocation of colonies,' he recommends that the bats be 'culled.'
Premier Anna Bligh issued warnings to the media from scientists that moving bat colonies out of populated areas would increase their stress levels and could worsen the spike in Hendra virus cases. She announced that Qld and NSW would increase Hendra virus research funding by $6 million over the next three years.
Charters Towers Mayor Ben Callcott went even further. He is quoted as saying that he backed the use of helicopters but said culling rather than smoke-bombing was the real solution. He said "Bats are the same as dinosaurs, we have got no dinosaurs and we should not have any bats either."
But dogs, cats, rats, mice, brush-tailed possums, bandicoots, hares, carpet pythons and any blood sucking insects such as ticks, mosquitoes and march flies also carry HeV, should we ‘cull’ them all too?
Do Flying Foxes Cause HeV in Horses?
The link between flying foxes and horse hendra is not definitive. AAHL research shows that HeV cannot be transmitted directly to horses from flying foxes (from urine/faeces/saliva). Aust Veterinary Journal Vol 76 No 12, says: “It is possible to transmit HeV from cats to horses. Transmission from Pt. poliocephalus to horses could not be proven and neither could transmission from horses to cats ….. the virus is not highly contagious.”
Not enough is known about how Hendra circulates in the environment. Other possible infection routes need to be investigated e.g. exposure to other species or food contamination from cat/rat/mouse faeces. It's possible that horses and flying foxes could be infected from a third source.
There is no threat to humans as long as bats are not touched. Hendra does not spread easily and is rarely transferred from horses to humans.
Why do we Need Flying Foxes?
Flying foxes are keystone species. Humans could never plant forests as quickly and effectively as bats which disperse up to 60,000 seeds from night-flowering species each per night. Our World Heritage forests, endangered ecological communities, woodlands, forest ecosystems (along with the biodiversity they contain) and fruits like bananas, paw paws, durians, cashews (including hardwoods, banksias, eucalypts and melaleucas) could not survive without flying foxes.
For Mayor Callcott to be inducing public hysteria with his media statements is irresponsible and could endanger flying foxes. Two species are already federally threatened. Their habitat has been seriously eroded by human encroachment and their populations are being hounded from roosting spot to roosting spot. Humans simply must learn to cohabit peacefully and respectfully with these forest makers or we will have no more forests.
Threats of Bats to Humans Compared with Threats of Humans to Humans
According to the Bureau of statistics causes of death 2008 updated 31/03/2010, 26 people died falling from ladders, 226 people died in motorcycle accidents, 182 deaths due to obesity, and 1402 total transport accidents and from other sources around 14000 die from smoking related illness, 10000 from alcohol related illnesses. 29000 Australians are know to be HIV positive, do we quarentine these people to protect the spread of infection? Is it our innate features that allow us to accept threats by fellow humans and at the same time rise to eliminate threats from wildlife? Since the early 1970's there have been 26 fatality’s caused by crocodiles. Whenever a crocodile shows it's head near an urban area there is a rise to cull crocodiles. The same reaction is being seen towards flying foxes. Are those in society who cry out to remove potential threats from wildlife to the pinnacle of human evolution, which will ensure no other species will threaten our continued rise?
While research is totally focussed on flying-foxes the real culprit could remain unidentified. We need good investigative science to solve the problem, not hysteric, knee-jerk reactions from bureaucrats like Mayor Callcott.
Lastly, we can live without horses but we cannot live without flying foxes, so let's get our priorities straight.
This year, 2011, is the International Year of the Bat, let's get this one right for a change! www.bats.org.au
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