Precious animal recovers to soar once again

22 April 2022

An injured Grey-headed flying fox - one of Australia’s most significant native keystone species - is back gliding through the night skies following life-saving surgery at Werribee Open Range Zoo.

The precious animal, which has a critical role in Australia’s ecosystem to support animal and human life, was discovered entangled in fruit tree netting in Geelong in January. It was brought to Werribee Open Range Zoo’s veterinary hospital for urgent medical treatment after breaking a wing while trying to escape the netting.

The flying fox underwent two critical life-saving operations. Werribee Open Range Zoo Associate Veterinarian, Dr Paul Eden, said the animal’s condition was extremely precarious due to the significant nature of its wing injury.

“Flying foxes are highly dependent on their wings for many purposes,” Dr Eden said. “They can fly an astonishing 6,000 kilometres in a year to search for food and pollinate a wide range of plants, supporting ecosystems such as entire eucalypt forests, an important habitat for animals like koalas and possums. They also use their wings to help capture insects, regulate body temperature, and attract other flying-foxes during mating season. So, it was extremely important that we did everything we could to help this animal make a full recovery.”

“Our ecosystem would be dramatically different, or cease to exist altogether, without flying foxes." - Dr Paul Eden.

To assist with the recovery process, vets operated to remove some of the damaged wing tissue and administered antibiotics and pain relief medication. Following the successful procedure, the flying fox was transferred to a wildlife carer to prepare it for release back into the wild.

“Our ecosystem would be dramatically different, or cease to exist altogether, without flying foxes. If we don’t have flying foxes, we don’t have forests, if we don’t have forests, we don’t have as much oxygen supply. They are critical to our survival.”

Dr Eden said there are some simple actions that people can take to keep flying foxes safe.

“We can greatly reduce the risk of entanglements by using nets with a mesh size of five-by-five millimetres or less at full stretch for fruit-trees or vegetable gardens. If you encounter a flying fox that is sick or in distress, for the safety of everyone, don’t attempt to rescue the animal yourself. Instead, contact Wildlife Victoria who will deploy a trained officer to rescue the animal.”

Grey-headed flying foxes are classified as Vulnerable in the wild, with their population declining due to a reduction in food availability from the destruction of native habitat and impacts of climate change, particularly extreme heat, drought, and fires.

Zoos Victoria members and Werribee Open Range Zoo visitors are reminded that all tickets must be pre-booked online at zoo.org.au and all ticketholders 18 years and over are required to provide proof of full vaccination and follow current Victorian Government directions at www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au.