AN OMINOUS red sign greets the visitor to an otherwise innocuous children’s playground behind the local shops at Lorn: ”Ground closed. Unfit for play”.
The tall trees just metres from the slippery dip in Maitland are dripping with thousands of dark shapes giving out the occasional squawk.
The branches are home to a camp of vulnerable grey-headed flying foxes and their numbers are swelling again as summer approaches – now at 8000, the local paper reported this week.
Down the road at Singleton, signs at Burdekin Park bear similar warnings.
”Do not handle flying foxes” one reads. ”Flying Foxes may carry lyssavirus”.
Residents of both Hunter Valley communities are up in arms and fearful of what the warmer weather will bring when the bat populations explode.
”The people who live around the park cannot open their windows and doors,” said Janette Morris, a long-time Singleton resident running an online social media campaign to rid the town of its smelly, noisy bats.
”There’s an elderly lady who lives there who cannot have her airconditioning on,” she said.
”I’m within two blocks of a beautiful, beautiful heritage-listed park that I cannot take my grandchildren to because there’s bat shit, poo, everywhere.
”If I haven’t got everything off the line by five o’clock, there is bat shit all over it and it does not come off,” Ms Morris said.
Katie Roach, 11, recalled the stench earlier this year when school days were governed by the movements of the flying foxes.
”In April, when we had the bats in our school, whenever we went into the classrooms we had to take our shoes off,” said the year 6 pupil at Singleton Public School.
”We couldn’t eat outside and before we ate we always had to put hand sanitiser on. And we couldn’t play in the playgrounds because the bats were pooing.”
Tuan Au, who has been a GP in Singleton for 16 years, said the nocturnal natives could potentially be dangerous to humans.
Various methods to rid the park of the bats had been tried over the years, he said, including water spray, loud music, and even a cacophony of lawn mowers.
”I’ve had two patients who had injuries from the bats, scratches and bites,” he said.
In addition to Hendra virus, flying foxes were carriers of lyssavirus, similar to rabies, Dr Au said.
The residents say the flying foxes moved into town when mining operations nearby pushed them out of their previous home.
Despite Maitland City Council lobbying state and federal governments to water down environmental protection of the creatures, experts warn they must be allowed thrive to keep the ecosystem in balance.
”Flying foxes are very, very important for the ecosystem,” said Ursula Munro, a senior lecturer in the school of the environment at the University of Technology, Sydney. ”They provide a very important service because they pollinate trees and they disperse seeds from trees.”
If flying foxes became extinct, Dr Munro said, then they would take various tree species down with them.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.