Flying fox orphans are easy to care for if you follow the basic care principles of maintaining good hydration, good nutrition, regular weighing and measuring to guide feeding schedule, access to sun and adequate socialising.
Spectacled flying fox orphans
We usually get 200- 500 Spectacled flying-fox pups through the hospital during paralysis tick season October to December each year. After the 2018 heat stress event this escalated to 750 pups. Some come in from mothers electrocuted on powerlines or entangled on barbed wire fences. A few are found alone on powerlines, though we don’t know why, but most come in because their mothers died from tick paralysis.
These are the months we are most in need of volunteers. The young are breast-fed by their mothers for 5-6 months. We initially hand-feed them with a bottle and teat, or syringe and teat, but from about 1 month of age they feed themselves from dripper bottles. Thankfully! There are a range of milk powders used by Australian flying-fox carers – cow, goat, infant formula, Biolac and Wombaroo.
The wild pups are unable to get fruit until they can fly at 3 months of age, but carers generally start to introduce fruit at about 2 months. The orphans are soft-released from early February once they have reached a certain size and weight. We support feed them in the forest for several months. Each year we have pups released in previous years coming back to the release cage, so we know that what we do works. We’ll never know what proportion of pups survive, just as we don’t know what proportion of wild pups survive.
Flying fox pups that come in healthy are very easy to rear once you know how. The most difficult aspects are having the right teat and right size hole in the teat, and how to deal with pups that want to suck on other pups (usually an ear). They are programmed to suck on their mother’s nipple for 6 months so it’s not surprising that we encounter this occasional problem.
Little Red flying fox orphans
Little Red flying foxes do not usually give birth on the Atherton Tablelands and so we rarely have their orphans in care in great numbers. Most years we have a few, coming in from the surrounding areas where the winters are much warmer. We find them as easy to rear as the Spectacled flying foxes and use the same milk powders. We run a soft release program for Little Red orphans from most areas of north Queensland for a number of reasons. One, most groups only have a couple in care in any one season. Two, their socialisation is a lot better if the creche group is bigger, and this in turn means their release and survival is likely to be better. Three, we also have a very large flight cage that allows their flight muscles to develop better. And finally, Tolga Scrub is usually the first camp established once the Little Reds fly south after winter.