Thousands of Australia’s largest bats, mostly flying foxes, die slow, painful deaths each year after becoming snagged and entangled on the barbed-wire fences that spread around much of the nation’s farms and rangelands. Carcasses of other wildlife, especially gliders (possum-like marsupials that glide like flying squirrels), also are found dangling from the wires. The problem is so widespread that conservation groups have despaired of achieving any real progress.
But now, says Jenny Maclean of the Tolga Bat Hospital in northern Australia, “There seems to be a critical mass of energy to tackle the issue and start the long process of replacing barbed wire with wildlife-friendly fencing.”
The Wildlife-Friendly Fencing Project, with a lead grant from the World Wildlife Fund, reports considerable progress since its official launch in September 2006. BCI’s Global Grassroots Conservation Fund is supporting production of an educational video to document the extent of the problem and demonstrate cost-efficient alternatives. The Bat Hospital is coordinating the national effort with a growing list of partners.
Among bat species that fall frequent victim to the fences are the spectacled and grey-headed flying fox and the ghost bat, all listed as threatened.
The project’s educational campaign is now up and running, and its activities and goals have been reported by newspapers, magazines and radio stations around the country and beyond. A brochure will be ready for distribution before the year is out.
Volunteers running the project are seeking landowners willing to modify their fences and demonstrate the feasibility of using safer fencing for a broad range of needs and terrains. Recently developed wildlife-friendly fencing guidelines are built around two strategies: Removing or replacing the barbed wire and improving its visibility. Most bat kills involve the top strand of fencing, so replacing it or dramatically increasing its visibility with streamers or fence tape can save bats and other wildlife.
One initial success involves not barbed wire but the almost invisible monofilament netting that is often thrown over backyard fruit trees.
Such netting causes horrific injuries to flying foxes. Most leading outlets that sell the netting recently agreed to discontinue it and instead provide much safer white, knitted netting, along with advice about stretching the nets to further reduce the risk to bats.
Maclean notes that the scope of the Wildlife-Friendly Fencing Project is enormous, and change will only come – slowly – through convincing landholders that they can effectively fence their property without endangering wildlife.
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