Bats burnt out -- Environmental vandals destroy flying fox home
By PETER CATON
UP to five different property owners on the outskirts of Murwillumbah face fines as high as $110,000 and possible jail after a flying fox camp was chain-sawed and burnt.
The NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (DECC) has launched an urgent investigation into the destruction of the bat camp which local conservationists says was home to 6400 protected grey-headed and black flying foxes.
Yesterday local bat wildlife carer Dave Pinson said only about 90 of the bats remained in a single row of trees left after two hectares of endangered swamp sclerophyll forest at Dulguigan was cleared and burnt.
"Thousands of bats have basically been rendered homeless," Mr Pinson said.
"We don't know where they've gone.
"A huge area has been chain-sawed and burnt in quite a concerted effort over some time.
"You just can't do this in this day and age just because you feel like it," he said.
"It's been done to move the flying foxes without going through any legal channels at all.
"This is a shocking crime against the environment and we call on the government to ensure that those responsible are severely punished, and required to revegetate the area.
"All because some people find x bats annoying, the community has now lost highly valuable vegetation and an important maternity campsite for flying-foxes.
"Mr Pinson said a groundswell of outrage over the bat colonies was growing among conservationists Australia wide with calls for the NSW Government to "prosecute in the strongest terms".
The New South Wales Wildlife Council yesterday joined the calls.
The council's chairperson Audrey Koosman said the area at Dulguigan was listed as an endangered swamp sclerophyll ecological community.
Ms Koosman said nobody knew if any bats had been killed but a question hung over what would happen to survivors "because that was their camp".
A DECC spokesperson said officers were investigating the "alleged clearing of flying fox habitat on a number of properties at Dulguigan."
He warned penalties for offences under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 ranged up to $110,000 or imprisonment for one year or both.
"DECC is very concerned about this matter and is keen to hear from anyone who may have information that might assist this investigation," he said.
Flying fox facts
Flying-foxes usually set up their camps in tall, dense vegetation.
Camp sites can be permanent or temporary and can include up to tens of thousands of individuals.
During the breeding season the camp size can change dramatically due to the availability of food and the arrival of animals from far away.
Camp sites where young are born become very important to them. Some camps in New South Wales have been used for over a century