Decimated: Heat wave wipes out flying fox colony

A RARE species of flying fox faces the threat of extinction after more than 23,000 animals were killed during an extreme heatwave in far north Queensland.

Almost a third of the region's spectacled flying fox population was wiped out when temperatures hit 42 degrees Celsius on consecutive days around the Cairns are.

Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University) ecologist Dr Justin Welbergen said it was the second-largest ever flying fox decimation in Australia.

And he urged governments to heed the warning signs lest flying foxes become the new "canaries in the coal mine" on climate change.

Some of the spectacled flying foxes killed by the heat in Edmonton. Picture: LISA EAGLETON
Some of the spectacled flying foxes killed by the heat in Edmonton. Picture: LISA EAGLETON

"These are certainly very serious wildlife die-off events and they occur at almost biblical scales," Dr Welbergen told ABC News.

"The population size of the spectacled flying fox in Australia is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals, give or take, so for all intents and purpose that means we have lost close to a third of the entire species in Australia.

"Losing a third of the species on a hot afternoon I would argue certainly strengthens the case for both the Federal and Queensland Governments to consider lifting the species from 'vulnerable' to 'endangered', if not 'critically endangered'."

The discovery adds to a grisly statistic in bat colonies around the country with Australia now averaging a major flying fox die-off (more than 1000 deaths) every year.

"This is very clearly a very serious issue for the long-term conservation of flying foxes in Australia," he said.


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