The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) has formally advised Sutherland Shire Council to cease its flying-fox dispersal program after a state-wide flying-fox food shortage was declared.
The council has spent up to $800,000 trying to disperse the Kareela flying fox camp and has just committed another $250,000 to be spent over the next two financial years on the dispersal program.
Currently there is an estimated 2500 flying foxes at the Kareela camp but the colony was estimated to be as many as 18,000 before the dispersal program began.
The colony was affecting the grounds of the nearby Sylvanvale Mikarie Child Care Centre, which cares for more than 150 children aged up to six including children with disabilities, and the Bates Drive Public School and Aspect South East Sydney School.
Sutherland Shire Council has been spending $10,000 a month on dispersing the colony.
But the council’s licence for dispersal prevents action to be conducted during food shortage periods.
Flying-foxes rely on flowering native species for food sources and the current food shortage is affecting flying-foxes and other nectar eating animals across the eastern states of Australia.
“We are unable to recommence the dispersal program until OEH gives us permission,” Sutherland Shire mayor Carmelo Pesce said.
“This will be reliant on the number of young flying-foxes present in the camps and the availability of food.
“We have a number of OEH approved ecologists working on our dispersal program and they will continue to conduct observations of the Kareela and Camellia Gardens camps to track the number of flying-foxes present.
“They will monitor the development stage and health of flying-foxes in the camps and the behaviour, which will help determine future actions.”
There are currently approximately 2500 flying-foxes roosting in the Kareela camp and 350 at the Camellia Gardens.
Future options for both sites are being considered, including the preparation of a camp management plan for the Camellia Gardens.
Dr Peggy Eby, Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW has been closely observing Flying Fox colonies throughout south eastern Australia in recent weeks.
“There has been a distinct spike in flying-fox mortality rates, primarily affecting dependent young and observations of young roosting without mothers during the day. We have also observed incursions of Grey-headed flying foxes into habitats not commonly used outside of periods of food shortage, indicating searches for marginal foods,” Dr Eby said.
“This combined with a spike in the incidence of flying-fox damage in commercial fruit crops and reports from apiarists of depleted nectar stocks confirms the current food shortage,” she said.
The council is informing residents and schools adjacent to the Kareela and Camellia Gardens camps and will keep the community up to date as more information becomes available.