Most years we get 1 or 2 abandoned pups with cleft palate syndrome. Some years we get many more than that. In 1998, there were 3 maternity colonies on the Atherton Tablelands. Cleft palate pups were found at all 3 but 21 of the 35 pups were found at Tolga, the smallest of the 3 colonies. In 2001 Tolga was the only maternity colony on the Tablelands (total population about 5000) and 45 were found. It is impossible to know the true incidence as many are scavenged, difficult to find, or dropped by their mothers while foraging for food at night.

It is also difficult to know if the syndrome is occurring elswhere. No other bat rescue group has cause to be in a colony daily during birthing season, as we do with tick paralysis. Many colonies are also in areas difficult to access eg swamps.

Tolga Bat Hospital -Severe midline defect   The syndrome usually includes a large midline defect that extends to the throat, missing or rudimentary thumb and toe claws, general low muscle tone and whiskery faces. The young present their mothers with difficulties in feeding as well as hanging on. Most are abandoned shortly after birth and so still have the cord attached, some even have the placenta. A few are found at 2-3 weeks of age, undernourished yet alive. Babies with the severe defect are euthanased as they cannot survive.

In 2009, another big year for cleft palate syndrome, we had an orphan with a cleft palate come into care on Christmas Day weighing 180 gms. Her mother had successfully fed her for probably 2 months. Her defect did not involve the roof of the mouth, but began at the back of the throat. We have only had a few with this defect before. We were unable to feed her. We suspect the defect opened up as she grew and so she became less successful at swallowing.

We have liased with a few researchers over the years from the Australian WIldlife Health Network. A summary of information to date has been compiled by 2 veterinary students Danielle Babski and Juliet. We hope to find the funding necessary to look at the many questions around this syndrome.

Tolga Bat Hospital -Sophie at 3 years  

Occasionally we find babies with a pin hole cleft, rather than an extensive midline defect. Sophie and Paula were 2 such bats, both died in mid-2004. Sophie was born in 1998 and Paula in 2001.
Sophie learned to fly and lived independently with the other bats. In her first 2 years she had 2 sinus infections that settled very quickly with oral amoxycillin. At this time she also had difficulties hanging, falling quite often - in doing so removing a few protuberant teeth and damaging her lower lip. The split you can see in her bottom lip is a reminder of all those falls.

Paula had a lot more difficulties hanging. We trialled some artificial nail extensions. A dental technician used a composite resin as used in teeth fillings, making her claws longer and more curved. For the first 24 hours it was a miracle. Paula could move around like never before. But the nail extensions came unstuck, despite several attempts. Paula did not have Sophie's obvious craniofacial anomolies, though she had the same orthodontic problems.

We continue to monitor for this condition and have had no more mass events since 2009 when 28 of 200 orphans coming into care had cleft palate syndrome.