What are we trying to conserve?

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The four species of flying foxes in Australia are all members of the genus Pteropus and in daytime all rest by hanging from trees. The noise their colonies make and their excrements that fall to earth are two of the reasons that these bats are so unpopular in the region.

The conflict between humans and bats is especially severe when bat colonies form in urban parks or near houses. In these cases, local people or authorities often use quite aggressive methods to persuade the animals to ‘move on’. This activity places colonies at risk as suitable places for bat roosts are increasingly hard to find and lead to confrontations between conservationists, who advocate pacific tolerance, and many local people and institutions.

In the mangroves near the house of Geoff Redman on the outskirts of Brisbane, a colony of 25,000 Pteropus scapulatus established itself a couple of months before our visit. This flying fox is the smallest of its genus and weighs just over 500 g. Its populations migrate through eastern and northern Australia in search of the nectar that they find in the flowers of native trees.

Geoff is an active member of local naturalist and social organizations and is a great fan of the mangrove swamps. From his backyard a short boardwalk takes him to an extraordinary concentration of mangroves that he shows us with a mixture of passion and concern. The branches of the mangroves give way easily under the weight of the hundreds of bats that often hang there. Some mangrove patches already contain dead trees, some of which are rare and threatened species. The balance of our visit to date is dead mangroves, many fallen branches on the ground and a pressing doubt: what are we trying to conserve?

Mangrove branch broken by bats
Mangrove branch broken by bats
Inside the mangroves
Inside the mangroves
Little red flying foxes <em>Pteropus scapulatus</em> inside the mangroves
Little red flying foxes Pteropus scapulatus inside the mangroves
Geoff Redman shows us the mangroves
Geoff Redman shows us the mangroves
Little red flying foxes<em>Pteropus scapulatus</em> flying over the mangroves
Little red flying foxesPteropus scapulatus flying over the mangroves
Mangrove fruit
Mangrove fruit