Friday, February 18, 2011

SYDNEY'S BATS FACE EVICTION


Even as a teenager, a highlight for me when visiting Sydney Botanic Gardens was seeing the thousands of bats that roost high in the trees. As night falls, the bats (grey-headed flying foxes) would fly back and forth, their impressive wingspan silhouetted against the dusk. Often, closer to the ground, conflict in the bushes could be heard as possums and bats vie for the optimum position on a tree branch. During concerts in the adjacent Domain, I remember lying on the picnic blanket, and when looking to the sky as night descended, the bats would fly across my field of view, often accompanied by the strains of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

Now, it's all about to change. The Royal Botanic Gardens Trust needs to put an end to the 2 decades of damage these bats have done to the flora that is their home. I'm disappointed yes, given today as I walk around the gardens with my 4 year old son, we visit the bats, trying to count them as they hang upside down from the trees (apparently there are around 22,000 bats in-situ today) and wondering at the screeching that emanates from the colony.

Moving them will be no easy task. A golf buggy fitted with a mighty sound system will blast the bats with industrial noise (at 10-minute intervals from about noon to 4pm each day for 2 weeks in May), powerful enough to make anyone move house. Hopefully this will cause the bats to move on, preferably beyond Hyde Park, with little distress and without injury. If the bats return, another round of cacophony will follow the next year. And failing that, again the year after. 

The prospect is not without controversy. A group called Bat Advocacy has challenged the intended eviction, but to no avail. The federal court ruled against them. My son is distressed too, a mini tantrum followed my explanation of why the bats must go. 

The Sydney Botanic Gardens is a wonderful place. A beautiful space on our amazing harbour, loved by dendrologists and chiropterologists alike. A walk through the gardens at dusk reveals an amazing collection wildlife, especially unique in the middle of a highrise city. I know the trees must be saved...but I'm saddened by the pending departure. 

Part of me hopes that a few of the evictees make their way back sometime, for a little while anyway.