the new 'wing'

We have world-class facilities for the bats, making work for the volunteer as safe and efficient as possible, and the life of the bats in our care as stress-free as possible.

Our new 'wing' , pictured here, was made possible by a legacy from Bob Mclean. It opened in time for the 2013 tick season. There is a huge storage area underneath and upstairs (or upramp) a large all-abilities bathroom, volunteer room, and ample space for rearing large numbers of flying fox orphans. The glassed- in verandah is a morning sun room for the orphans.

A feature of the new wing is the bat artwork. There are metal bats flying around the outside made by the local artist who made our famous bat seat; and inside, a wide array or artstyles from Aboriginal paintings to more bat metal artwork this time from Bali.

 

 

Our other facilities include:

  • A small airconditioned hospital built in 1998 - see photo opposite
  • The Battery, a large flight cage for megabats built in 2003.
  • A large 8 metre diametre octagonal microbat cage built in 2004.
  • An new 8 metre by 4 metre cage for tick paralysis season, built in 2005.
  • An outdoor high horizontal netting structure for flying foxes living outside the cage, built in 2006.
  • The release cage out at Tolga Scrub in 2007
  • The Visitor Centre in 2009.
  • A new internal cage in the Battery built in 2009. One half of the cage is to hold flying foxes undergoing treatment and the other half for Little Reds to feed separately to the larger flying fox species. An extension to the treatment cage was added 2012 to provide an outdoor sunny area.
  • 4 large wormfarms and a small coldroomat the back of the Battery.

THE BAT HOSPITAL
The hospital has 20 individual hanging cages,16 lying cages,and an indoor 2 metre by 1 metre cage. Tick-paralysed bats progress through these cages, before going outside.

The hospital itself is rarely used outside of tick season. Injured bats may spend a night in there so we can monitor them more easily, but move to the outside cage as soon as possible. The main exception are the very sick dehydrated bats that sometimes come in off barbed wire fences.

Tolga Bat Hospital - Hospital Surgery

THE MEGABAT FLIGHT CAGE or THE BATTERY


 

The large flight cage for flying foxes is 12 metres wide, 14.5 metres long, 3 metres high at the sides and 6 metres high in the middle. There are no internal posts. It has a waterproof cover over 4.5 metres at one end where the internal cages are located. It is lined externally with galvanised wire mesh 25mm by 12mm, and internally with tuna netting. This netting was replaced in 2014.

One section of the roof with the waterproof cover has a shadecloth cover and sprinkler system. The bats surprisingly spend most ofl their time under the plastic.

The netting gives the bats a soft landing, protecting their wings from the harshness of the wire mesh. 2 metre-wide double doors are located at each end. There is a 'human area' 4.5 metres by 4 metres between the 2 internal cages with a sink, refrigerator and treatment area.

All our cages have 2mm polybelt or dam liner as a kind of rat wall around their circumference. It is cut to about 400mm wide, with 200-300mm vertically in the ground, the rest above ground. This allows easy attachment of wire mesh off the ground (no rusting), and an easy surface to brushcut the outside grass against (no damage to wire from brushcutter).

While it is possible to catch the bats in the 6 metre enclosure, it is easier to wait until they come down for food. They enter the feeding area through a hatch. Attached to the hatch door is a rope that extends up to the house. When pulled, it closes the hatch door, trapping all those who are down feeding. Of course you do not always catch the particular bat you want! Bats that need ongoing care are kept down below in the internal cages. There are 'bedrooms' within the internal cages that allow bats in care to socialise and not 'escape' up top. We also have the separate internal cage (see below) that can house quite number of treatment animals. We believe in the importance of allowing the bats to socialise while undergoing treatment.

The main flight area of the cage has a thick bed of mulch/grass and a large fig tree. It is a sand-paper fig and soquite robust and the leaves are not eaten by the bats. We have tried growing a range of trees in the cage but many failed as the leaves were either eaten by the bats (eg mulberry) or broken by the hundreds of orphans in there for a few months each year.

Tolga Bat Hospital -Small Internal Cage With Orphans  

Tolga Bat Hospital -Large Internal Cage

The resident bats come down to the internal cages for food - they measure 4.5 metres by 3 metres, and 4.5 metres by 1.5 metres. They are very easy to clean, but still require a good srcub or pressure clean once a week. The floor area is heat welded 2 mm thick polypropylene sheeting that slopes down to a gutter. The gutter is heat welded to the floor, and takes the waste to a pumpwell, from which it is then pumped to a septic tank with soakage trenches. Sand has been compacted underneath the floor area to establish the slope.

Photos: The internal cages have heat-welded polypropylene floors, that are heat welded to the gutter.

 

Tolga Bat Hospital - Bat Cage Nov 03   Tolga Bat Hospital - Bat Cage April 05   2015
NOV 2003   APRIL 2005   APRIL 2015

We have been very pleased with the progress of the gardens established around the cages. In the most recent photo, it's hard to see the cage but you can see the path to it.
The cage was built largely with money gifted through Perpetual Trustees in Australia (Russell McKimmin Charitable Trust $5000 and Rothwell
Wildlife Preservation Trust $13000). The main frame was purchased from VP Structures in Brisbanes for $5401, and then fitted out internally.

heater

  LRFF cage
It can get quite cold in winter in the outside cage. We have 2 infrared heaters, one 800 watt and one 2400 watt. The bats really enjoy the warmth and huddle around the heater in the treatment cages, but ultimately prefer to be up the top of the cage of the large flight cage if they can.

 

  Internal cage built in 2009 and extended in 2012. The right hand side of the cage is for the permanent care Little Red flying-foxes. We like to feed them separately as their dietary requirements are different. There is a hatch on the side that allows only small bats to enter the cage. The cage has a heat-welded floor that drains into the same pumpwell as all the other cages. The left side of the cage is a cage for flying foxes undergoing treatment and so unable to be in the larger area. There is a hatch from the plastic floor area where animals are fed to the outside grassed area so they can be outdoors in the sun.




THE MICROBAT FLIGHT CAGE or SYNCHRONICITY CAGE

The flight cage for microbats has been built largely with money gifted by the Synchronicity Foundation in the United Kingdom. It is an 8 metre octagon with 3 metre sides and 3 -3.5 metres high. A 'human area' 3 metres by 2 metres allows entry through 2 doors into the octagon. The cage is lined externally with 5mm by 5 mmm wire mesh, and internally with 6mm by 6mm plastic mesh on the sides, and a very small weave netting on the ceiling. The entire roof is covered with solarshield plastic. The floor is covered with black weedmat to prevent grass growing through and soil coming up, and allows any rain to drain away. The weedmat is covered with a white shadecloth so that it is easy to see any grounded bats. Roost areas are set up around the central pole and on the octagon sides. Two fluoro lights, one black and one white are installed on mains electricity above the central roosting area.

We have used the cage now very successfully since 2004. In that time a number of small tube-nosed fruitbats (55gms) have come into care, and this cage has worked wonderfully for them as well. We have now established a release hatch in the side wall of the cage for the tube-nosed bats. The black light attracts a lot of insects into the cage, and has also attracted the world's largest moth to the outside of the cage, the Atlas moth. One problem has been the harshness of the white shadecloth floor as it is quite abrasive for those bats that crash land repeatedly. We instaleld a new floor in 2012 after the cyclone was damaged in cyclone Yasi and remedied this problem by using a 90% shade cloth that is much softer than the original 50%.

Tolga Bat Hospital - Tolga Bat Hospital - Tube Nose Cage 2
Inside the microbat cage, central roosting area.
View of microbat cage from one side
door batbox
Door entry
Bat boxes
Tolga Bat Hospital - Tube Nose Cage 3
Tolga Bat Hospital - Tube Nose Cage 4
View of microbat cage from another side
Detail of floor to sides


THE TICK PARALYSIS CAGE or DAF CAGE

Daf cage

 

tcage09

Photos taken 2006 and 2009 respectively. Note additions for Visitor Centre - the interpretive sign and glass viewing panel.

This cage was built mainly with monies gifted by the Dorothy Ann Foundation in USA. It is 4 metres wide, and its 8 metre length is divided into 3 sections. Two of the sections are of equal size 3.5metres by 4 metres. One is used for orphans when they first leave the nursery in the house, and the other for adults who have just left the hospital having survived tick paralysis. The narrow middle section is used as a segregation area.

This cage has a concrete floor that slopes towards a gutter that eventually drains by gravity to the pumpwell down in the large flight cage. It has a ceiling of prawn netting, with a space of about 25cms to the wire mesh roof. The wire mesh is 25mm by12mm, the same as used in the large flight cage. The DAF cage is partly covered by an attractive green sail, giving the bats and volunteers protection from too much sun and rain.

Attached to the cage area is 'the bat shed', a human area for keeping cleaning equipment and other bat "stuff".

Below: View looking up towards tick cage 2009.

bench

OUTDOOR HIGH NETTING

Three stainless steel cables (3mm thick) have been attached from the top of the Mega Flight cage to a high point on the DAF cage. They have been tensioned sufficiently to rig taut tuna netting between the cables. The netting is interrupted in places by trees, so that the bats have a high level 'walk-way' between cages and trees. As the trees grow, we trim back the netting. This allows us to keep a lot of the permanent-care larger males outside the Mega Flight cage.

It is difficult to see the black netting in this photo.

Tolga Bat Hospital - Netting



THE RELEASE CAGE 1999 - 2006

The release cage is out at Tolga Scrub, in a part of the camp occupied most years by the wild mothers and babies. This allows our orphans to join the wild pups at night and learn with them. During the day, at least until the end of March, they are essentially social misfits, as everyone their own age has a mother, and weighs probably about 100gms less. They have a lot to learn about bush food, the social structure of the colony, changes in weather, predators etc, as well as gaining the strength and endurance to fly out increasing distances.

Until 2007 we had 2 large dog crates that we winched up into the canopy; the smaller cage can comfortably fit about 10 bats, and the larger one 15. We did not want the bats coming down to a ground-level cage for support feeding, as we felt that this was not safe at Tolga. Nor did we think it was good for the bats to learn that coming low was safe.

We begin to take the orphans out in early January. The first bats to go out are usually about 450gms and 140mm+ forearm. We leave the orphans inside the cages for 3 days, winching the cage down each day to feed them. They very quickly get used to the cage going up and down. Then on the fourth day we leave one cage door open when we winch the cage back up. We prefer if they just come out in their own time during the evening rather than physically putting them out. The next morning, we bring the next lot of bats out, and leave the door open on the other cage. That way there is always someone 'home'.

We try to minimise the time when there is no one in either cage. We believe that by continually having bats in at least one cage, there is a greater likelihood of the others returning. This is really the crux of the whole release program. All we can do is try to teach the orphans that coming back to the cage for food is in their best interests. The rest is up to them.

 
Release Cage 2000. The canopy cage was ideal until we had many hundreds of orphans to release each year.

Initially, the bats are always desperate for food when we go out. If we go out any later than 4pm, it is hard to put the food out as we are mobbed by them. So we go out 2-3pm if possible. That way a few may be on the cage when we get there, and another 50-100 might fly down while the cage is down and having the food put on it. The rest fly on to the cage once it has been winched back up. We hope that by being fed early, they will be ready to fly out with the wild bats on dusk, and not still be on the cage eating.

The success of the release is evident by the numbers of orphans from previous years returning to the cage. They have obviously survived that first year in the wild. We scan the bats coming to the release cage regularly, and if we can get close enough can identify these older individuals. Its very satisfying to be able to let the carers who reared them, know of their return.

Another aspect of release is being able to monitor the orphans as they return to the wild. A small number present with injuries and come back to the hospital - some of these go back out again, others are held over for rehabilitation and are released from home. Each year we have wild babies with injuries come down to the cage for food - these are brought home as well for treatment. By April though, most orphans remain up in the trees until we winch the cage back up, and so we cannot monitor or scan them so easily. We have used this method since 1999. It works well for us and the bats. If the colony moves, the whole release cage set-up can be moved. We only need to concrete in another post for the winch, and find a suitable tree for the pulley.

 

THE RELEASE CAGE 2007 - THE PRESENT

In 2005 we had 300 orphans to release and the canopy cages began to present problems. How do we feed that many bats on such a small surface area on which to hang food? We strung up a wire rope between the cages (about 10 metres long), and hung strings of apples along it. However our shoulders were getting a bit worn out by winching up the cages full of bats and food, and we decided it was time to build a ground cage. There had been no vandalism at the release cage over the years so we felt safe enough doing this.

Luckily we had help in the first half of 2007 from a Green Corps team, through Conservation Volunteers Australia and Atherton Shire Council. The team cleared the track into the colony, and carried in all the building materials - heavy railway sleepers, fencing panels, rolls of wire mesh and wheelbarrow loads of trench rock. It was a case of 'many hands make light work' with 10 Tablelands youth and their team leader Carlo taking 2 days to complete.

Most of the materials for the cage were recycled. It was designed with a ceiling about 50 cms lower than the roof. This protects the bats' feet from predators, and allows the outside bats to hang at a good height. We need a small ladder to get the food up. There is a waterproof roof of UV stabilised plastic, and a floor of outdoor anti-slip vinyl. We scrape up the waste each day and remove off site.


release cage 1   release cage 3
Photos:Craig Martin Release cage 2010. We use the old canopy cage as an extra feeding area.

pademelon   release cage 2
Photos:Craig Martin Release cage 2010. We get pademelons and brush turkeys cleaning up around the release cage.

Once we have about 50 orphans living outside the release cage, we shorten the time for the remaining orphans in the cage to 2 days. We usually take milk out in the mornings for the first few weeks.

We follow this procedure until all the bats are out at the release site and living free. The last bats to go out are usually a little smaller than the first, weights down to 350gms and forearms down to 135mm. It usually takes about 2 months to get all the orphans out to the release site becasue of the big disparity in ages. We continue to feed daily for at least 4 weeks after the last lot of orphans go out. This is well into our wet season, and so the the rate at which we begin to cut back the food varies with the weather. The more cyclones and wet weather, the more food goes out. The wild babies have about 3 months of support feeding (breast-feeding) after they learn to fly, so we use this as the guide. We eventually cut back the food to once a week for the final month.


WORM FARMS

wormfarm   worms

There are 4 wormfarms that recycle the waste from the flying foxes. They are enough for about 200 flying foxe and get emptied about once every 2 years. The containers themselves have been recycled from a farm that had used them to dry tea leaves. The castings (worm poo) are used mainly on the vegetable garden but also other gardens. The floor of the containers is 50mm metal mesh with shadecloth on top.We don't attempt to collect the wormliquid, it just drains oto the ground below. The containers are supported off the ground on logs so they are well ventilated.

To empty the worm castings we stop putting the flying fox waste on one half of the containers and over a period of 6-8 weeks all the worms move over to the side that is being fed. We then shovel out most of the worm castings leaving a small layer with a bit of hay on top. We wet the hay down and then begin feeding on that side only, causing all the worms to move back and then evetually empty the other side. This system works extremely well, but is only possible in a relatively rat-free area. Otherwise you need a closed system.