The Cairns heat stress event in late 2018 coincided with our paralysis tick season and taught us all about caring for large numbers of flying fox orphans.  The ticks began with a vengeance in mid September such that by the last week in November we had 250 orphans in care, including 50 from Cape Tribulation and Cairns. By then the dry season really kicked in and it was too desiccating for the ticks to be out questing on vegetation for bat blood. We found relatively few adults with tick paralysis all through November  (2-5 a day) and we thought we’d have a relatively quiet December.

But on the 26th November the first ever heat stress event in this region struck the Cairns area. With the deaths of about 23,000 Spectacled flying foxes, about 900 orphans were looking for homes in a matter of 3 days. These came from colonies in the Cairns area as well as Ingham. Meanwhile the Black flying foxes a little further south in Townsville shared a similar fate with 10,000 dead and about 700 orphans.

We were able to take 500 of the Spectacled orphans, bringing the total to 750 orphans here at the bat hospital. Read on to hear how we managed to care for them.

(Top photo shows some of the volunteers here in November 2018)

caring for large number of spectacled flying fox orphans in our nursery

The youngest orphans are housed in heated boxes in this room, with time out each day on the verandah for sun. Here they are being toiletted, cleaned, wrapped and placed in boxes ready for feeding by volunteers in the adjacent room.

caring for large numbers requires experienced carers

The smallest orphans are individually hand fed, but as they get older can be box-fed, 4 bats to a box. The bats are positioned so that the bottle for one bat rests up against it’s neighbour. Our most experienced volunteers can wrap the bats and multiple-box feed them pretty quickly. Experienced carers make all the difference for caring for large numbers of flying fox orphans.

caring for large numbers of spectacled flying foxes on frames outside getting sun

These frames are the key to caring for large numbers of young orphans – they make it very quick to move large numbers of bats inside and out, into lie down and up again. It is essential the young bats get an hour or more of sunlight a day as well as a few hours of lie down twice a day. The floor of the frame can be easily adjusted into a high position so that the orphans lie down, or into a lower position allowing them to hang. To cope with extra orphans, we quickly built 2 more frames, this time with their own legs instead of using sawhorses, and took over one of the volunteer rooms in the Nursery building.

our pop-up temporary feeding area to care for large numbers

Orphans leave the Nursery at about 8 weeks of age to go to the Orphan Cage. From there they graduate to the large Flight Cage where they learn many things – flying, socialising with adults (not!), climbing or flying to the top of the cage or down to the eating areas. To care fro the large numbers we needed to build this blue tarp space to link cages on both sides, creating one large long feeding area.

caring for large numbers of flying fox orphans requires good release facilities-spectacled flying fox_Tolga Scrub

We were supported by Tablelands Regional Council to extend the verandahs of the release cage to cope with the extra numbers this year. The extended wet weather necessitated building a boardwalk from pallets cut to size so we could escape the mud (not shown in photo). It also slowed down the rate at which we could release the orphans. We expect to support at the release cage until the end of June, though the amount of food going out each day is now down to a minimum.

Long-term weather records for heat, drought and rainfall in our tropical far north region of Queensland were all broken in late November 2018 and into early 2019. Luckily we had a lot of volunteers booked in for this orphan season, many of them repeat volunteers and some of them staying 2-3 months. We accelerated our usual bulk buying of bat food, called in local volunteers more frequently and became more present than usual on social media to attract donations. We also started planning to expand our release facilities out at Tolga Scrub.

More detailed information about how we run our Nursery can be found here and our release program here.


UK – Devonne Sheppard, Cher Lockwood, Shannon Lindsay

USA – Emily Stanford, Tamara Notowitz, Paul Swift, Lindsay Kaye, Sarah Ferguson, Cailene Bovee, Kristen Williams, Katherine Kroll, Brandon Nowlin, Geneva Kinzer, Nicole Szajner , Lily Hacker, Teej Ford

GERMANY – Ann-Lina Sauer, Traudel Specker

AUS – Caroline Durre, Chelsea McMillan, Lauren Christie, Lisa Enever, Michelle Power, Lee McMichael, Sandra Dobson, Amy Gallagher, Nathan Briggs

OTHER – Gabriela Gallego (Columbia), Joelle & Pascale Taroni (France), Elin Hellgren (Sweden), Barbara Cushing (Guam), Joshua Gilbert (Micronesia), Francisa Yang (Tahiti), Maria Klerck (South Africa)

LOCALS Sue Churchill, David Blair, Dinah Hansman, Carol McGoldrick,  Ceinwen Edwards, Rebel Warren, Barb Lansky, Ann Palmer, Cheryl Matthews, Naomi Fay, Amanda Kaiwi, Putri McCall, Desiree Lim, Jerry Willimann, Petra Buttner, Denise, Tracey Hayes, Helen Weld, Clelia Croxford, Robert Smith

VET STUDENTS – Sydney University – Alexandra Berry, Yi Zhang, Rebekah Pyne, Erina Leask, Genevieve Forman. Gabi Elsinger, Isabelle Spooner, Irene Marexca, Katherine Nguyen. James Cook University – Jessica Stinson, Jemma Payne, Meg Parker, Crystal Barrett, Alex Stephens. Megan Kettle, Louise Raynaud. Melbourne University – Hannah Dyer

STAFF Jenny Mclean, Ashleigh Johnson, Hannah Thompson, Stacey Gordon (only Hannah on a wage)

THANK YOU TO ALL THE DONORS There were many many small donors, and not so small donors, as well as the larger ones like the International Fund for Animal Welfare, Pam Ison and the Queensland Department of Environment and Sustainability.