Concern over Kinglake colony

Concern over Kinglake colony

09 May 2011

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Australia: WITH its beady little eyes, stubby nose and razor sharp teeth, the Eastern Bent-wing bat is the stuff of nightmares.

But Samantha Strong, community engagement officer with Parks Victoria, which manages the bats at Kinglake National Park, says there is much to admire in the mouse-sized mammal.

For starters, it can fly up to 25km a night, catching and eating its prey – including moths, mosquitoes and crickets – on the wing.

Ms Strong said the bats, which give birth at only one known site, were vulnerable to ecological change.

She said many of the tiny creatures – they measure less than 6cm, weigh a mere 15g and can live for up to 20 years – survived the 2009 bushfires by sheltering hundreds of metres underground in an old mine shaft near Mt Slide, northeast of Kinglake.

But a series of recent surveys showed the Kinglake colony – numbering 250-350 animals at its peak – was in decline due to a shortage of insects after Black Saturday.

“We can’t say how dramatic the decline is because the colony may have moved to another mine shaft not affected by the fires, 10km away at One Tree Hill,” Ms Strong said.

“It is expected that the Mt Slide population will increase as the bush continues to regenerate and researchers are testing to see if the bats have made use of other nearby mines.”

During a survey in early April – one of four conducted over summer – bat researcher Rob Gration captured 33 bats in a harp trap near the Mt Slide mine.

Ms Strong said the haul included several females that had been absent from earlier surveys.

Each bat was weighed, recorded and fitted with a bar-coded aluminium band to allow long-term monitoring.

“The banding program will provide information important in understanding how fire and species ecology go hand-in-hand and help develop management programs to protect local populations,” Ms Strong said. “They’re an exceptional species with so many amazing biological features captured in such a small animal – everything from the way they communicate to their wing structure.”

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