Flying-foxes – flying, nocturnal, placental mammals – play an important role in pollinating and dispersing seeds of many of our forest tree species and are protected under the Nature Conservation Act 1992. Despite their importance, flying-foxes are at the centre of a controversial and politically fuelled debate. Bat roosting sites often occur close to urban areas and are not favoured by nearby residents due to the smell and noise. In addition, flying-foxes can be vectors for diseases such as Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABLV).
Public outrage in response to roosting sites led to the development of Damage Mitigation Permits in Qld, which allow culling and dispersal of bat colonies. But populations of flying-fox species are in decline, mostly due to loss of habitat, and scientific evidence shows dispersal methods are ineffective. In order to manage self-sustaining populations of flying-foxes and to prevent human cases of ABLV, it has been recommended by scientists and conservation groups that public education and awareness building is a necessity. But can communicating the science of flying-foxes assist in calming public fears, balancing extreme views, informing policy and ultimately protecting these keystone species?