Protecting Australia’s most endangered microbat on Threatened Species Day

September 2019

Threatened Species Day (Saturday 7 September) is a time for Australians to consider and take action to address the plight of native species threatened with extinction.

Australia’s southern bent-winged bat is critically endangered. These tiny microbats dwell in cold climate caves in south-eastern South Australia and western Victoria and there are thought to be less than 40,000 left, with remaining populations in steady decline.

Each year, from around late August to early September, southern bent-winged bats commence their annual migration to only a few maternity caves around Naracoorte in SA and Warrnambool in Victoria, where females will give birth to a single pup.

Scientists from Wildlife Health Australia, a unique national network that acts to protect the health of Australia’s iconic wildlife, have been working steadily in recent years to proactively address a key risk to the southern bent-winged bat - the possible introduction of a deadly fungal disease, white-nose syndrome, from the northern hemisphere.

The white-nose syndrome fungus has already spread from Europe to North America in the past decade, resulting in the death of more than 6 million bats in cool climate habitats.

Wildlife Health Australia has been working with partner agencies to reduce the risk of introduction of this fungus into Australia, which could be transferred on the boots and equipment of people coming from overseas to visit caves in Australia, or returning from cave visits overseas.

Wildlife Health Australia’s CEO Dr Rupert Woods said: “Australia’s biodiversity and the natural systems it supports are under pressure. Monitoring wildlife health is an essential part of maintaining a healthy environment.

“In this case, our network’s preparedness programs have included formal risk assessments, workshops, awareness programs at caving and climbing forums, information for wildlife carers and organisations, and improving the preparedness of Australian agencies to respond if there was an outbreak here.

“These tiny bats are already at risk, so we must do everything we can to avoid this disease, which could bring the threat of extinction even closer. Threatened Species Day is a good time for Australians to reflect upon the importance of having healthy wildlife and to find ways to support our threatened species and the many agencies, organisations and people that work so tirelessly to protect them.”


Southern bent-winged bat. Image: Terry Reardon                              

If you see any unusual signs of disease in wildlife, call the 24-hour Emergency Animal Disease Watch Hotline: 1800 675 888.

Wildlife Health Australia is the coordinating body for wildlife health in Australia.

See www.wildlifehealthaustralia.com.au and https://vimeo.com/192373588.

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