Effective steps for protecting horses do not involve culling flying foxes.
Photo © Wildlife Queensland
Prior to the recent cluster of Hendra virus events – time-wise not geographically, there had been 14 incidents over 16 years all with tragic and unfortunate outcomes. This recent outbreak of 9 events in both Queensland and New South Wales involving 8 horses in Queensland and 4 horses in New South Wales is unusual considering past history.
Naturally this number of incidents is a concern, but Biosecurity Queensland and Queensland Health and their colleagues in New South Wales are putting a great deal of effort to obtain a better understanding of what is occurring.
In spite of these recent events, the clamour for culls of flying foxes is only being fostered by a few individuals. Unfortunately this may change due to Liberal National Party, ignoring the science and informed advice, is considering a policy to allow 'councils' moves on policies for flying-fox camps (Courier mail, 19 July 2011). In addition the 7PM Project TV program ran a very biased presentation on 19 July 2011 distorting the situation entirely. These people may be well intended but are ill informed. Credit has to be given to the Government staff for their tireless efforts and providing informed strategies to minimise the risk from the virus. People attending information evenings are not witnessing support for culls.
Some facts need reinforcing:
- Flying-foxes are not in plague numbers as stated by some people. DERM staff are monitoring certain roost sites and while numbers may fluctuate there is no gross increase in numbers.
- Flying-foxes are an important part of our natural environment and a protected species.
- Flying-foxes are widespread in Australia, are highly mobile and it is not feasible to cull them.
- Dispersing or culling flying-foxes may simply transfer the issue to another location.
- There are far more effective steps people can take to reduce the risk of Hendra virus infection in horses than culling or dispersing flying-foxes.
- It is known that flying-foxes carry the virus but the transmission path to horses is still unknown. It is assumed that a number of critical environmental factors must come into play for this to occur.
- Flying-foxes are social animals that live and roost together in large numbers in camps. Camps may disperse for no apparent reason and yet re-establish in a short period of time.
Dispersing or culling flying-foxes is not the solution from Wildlife Queensland’s perspective. There is every possibility that such action may increase the spread of Hendra virus. Some disease experts are concerned that the spread of Hendra virus from flying-foxes is driven by ecological disruption and stress on populations.
Flying-foxes have been around for some 35 million years. It is not known with certainty how long Hendra virus has been in Australian flying-fox populations but it has only relatively recently jumped to horses. It has been suggested that it may be linked to environmental destruction. Obviously disturbance of their camps and roost sites is not the answer to the problem.
Wildlife Queensland encourages the rapid development and availability of the vaccine and trusts that research continues to fully understand the Hendra virus so such incidents are a thing of the past.
Should you be opposed to culls or disturbance of Flying-fox camps please email Premier Anna Bligh and Hon. Vicky Darling, Minister for Environment. Should writing be more convenient The Premier, PO Box 15185, City East, Qld 4002 and Minister for Environment, GPO 2454, Brisbane Qld 4001
For more information on Wildlife Queensland's activities, call us on +61 7 3221 0194 or send us an email.