Tuesday 14th January 2014 was a 40(°C) 104(°F) day, the first of a 4 day heatwave of over 40 degree temperatures.
Over the next four days we would lose over 10% (approx.4000) of the population of Grey Headed Flying Foxes (GHFF) in the Yarra Bend (Kew )colony of Melbourne.
There were volunteers that had already gone to Kew to monitor the health of the flying fox colony and noticed that at this stage of the evening they had begun descending to the lower extremities of the trees to try and avoid the heat of the evening sun. When they do this they actually clump together closer and end up overheating themselves more.
Along with approximately 12 other volunteers and carers we went to Yarra Bend and used spray packs filled with water to try and cool as many of the GHFF as we could on these low branches. Despite our attempts there were a number of flying foxes that were starting to drop from the trees due to extreme heat exhaustion. We assisted as many as we could trying to get them hydrated.
As the evening progressed and our own exhaustion was setting in, thankfully the temperature was dropped to a slightly more comfortable level. This enabled the GHFF to fly out for their nightly feeding and allowed us to see the juveniles that were still struggling. By 9pm the light was rapidly fading and becoming too hazardous to continue. Two volunteers, Greg and Louise , decided to check one of the crèche trees (where the Flying Fox mum’s leave their babies all together as they are unable to fly while the mum’s feed for the night). Heartbreakingly there was a pile of dead flying foxes both young and mature at the base of this tree. While moving the dead ones aside to check if there were any that could still be saved they found a premature new born GHFF. They came rushing up to the carpark where we were all packing up to leave for home to try and rest ourselves for the next day, as it was forecast to be in excess of 40(°C) 104(°F) again the next day.
When they handed me this tiny little pup I had to look again as I thought they had found some other creature given how tiny he really was. I couldn’t believe he survived under all the dead flying foxes, he was covered in dirt and was slimy, he had lots of scratches and had a small hole in his wing.
When I got home I had to measure and weigh him to find out his age so that I knew how much milk he should be drinking and how many feeds per day he would require this milk/calcium/glucodin mixture. There is a chart we carers have with the forearm measurement and weight a baby GHFF should be from one day old to maturity. ‘Caesar’ as he was named, weighed 60grams & had a forearm measurement of 55mm. He was smaller than any of the measurements or weights for even the one day old GHFF, which leads us to believe that he was actually prematurely born. We decided to try our best and prepared ourselves that sadly he may not survive. It was only at 1 week of care that his measurements finally registered, his forearm length and weight matching a one day old. Caesar grew healthy and strong day by day, and the cheeky little man went on to be successfully released back to the wild albeit with tears from his carers/human mothers.