Just an hour before sunset, around 80 people gather around the jetty at Mowbray Park in Brisbane ready to board the Batty Boat. They have been attracted for a variety of reasons – the chance to get to know the flying foxes better; the possibility of a close-up view of a colony; and the desire to help in bat conservation. The money raised by the activity will contribute to wildlife conservation projects organized by the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland.
The crew fills every minute of the upriver trip with abundant information about bats and comments on the areas we pass through. The rigour and the desire to raise public awareness is an integral part of the message that accompanies this pleasant cruise. Members of Bat Conservation and Rescue Queensland have set up a stall with all type of material about bats and have brought along a number of young bats that passengers can bottle feed during the trip.
Young or old, alone or with families, a highly varied cross-section of people has come along on the trip. At dusk, we arrive at our destination, the island of Indooroopilly, where a large colony of flying foxes has thrived for a number of summers. The aim is to witness the moment in which the thousands of bats in the colony take to the wing over the river. Once it is too dark to see the bats’ silhouettes against the night sky, we begin our return through a landscape changed by the effects of the city lights that surround us.
The final number of flying foxes that flew out from the island was 10 or maybe less – and some of the people on the trip failed to see even one bat. The crew explain that since the cruises began in 1984 this is only the second time that this has happened, the first being in 2011. Bat colonies tend to move around and in recent years they have begun to note a worrying decline in bat numbers. Nevertheless, this observation does not seem to cause a great deal of worry amongst the people present, further evidence that the conservation of bats in Australia is not exactly a subject of pressing public concern. The message is clear, however, and, despite the damper it puts on proceedings, will help raise awareness amongst Australians in relation to the conservation issues that threaten their native bats.