Miracle bat baby from Killabakh barbwire FAWNA rescue

Little miracle: Mother Judith and her now two-week-old baby are healing, healthy and doing well. Photo: Julia Driscoll.
Little miracle: Mother Judith and her now two-week-old baby are healing, healthy and doing well. Photo: Julia Driscoll.

“You still cack your dacks,” Danny Cain says.

Danny Cain is talking about every time he and his wife, Margaret, have to rescue flying foxes that are caught on barbed wire fences. 

“Especially when it’s a big hulking male; they’re a bit scary and intimidating because they scream. And they’re only screaming because that’s their last form of defence,” Danny says.

The FAWNA carers also run the risk of being bitten and scratched during a rescue.

Recently, however, the rescue of a pregnant grey-headed flying fox from a barbed wire fence in Killabakh delivered a miracle, both literally and figuratively. 

Two weeks ago a call came through from a couple who found a bat on their fence. Luckily for the pregnant flying fox, the landholders had done exactly the right thing by not trying to disentangle the bat themselves.

On advice from FAWNA, they simply threw a sheet over the bat until Danny and Margaret arrived to take care of the situation.

“Fortunately she had minimal damage to her wing; she’ll be able to fly again,” Danny says.

At the time of rescue it was evident the animal was very pregnant. Anxiety set in – all too often have the couple rescued pregnant bats to have them miscarry because of the stress.

They took the bat, now named Judith after the landowner’s wife, home and put her in a small, confined cage so she couldn’t move too much. They treated her wound, and commenced an hourly watch to check on the expecting mother’s impending birth progress.

On the second day, she gave birth between hourly checkups, to a full term, very healthy baby girl. The couple could not be more relieved, or surprised.

“What a shock that was!” Margaret says. “This is our first one in 12 years that’s managed to deliver alive.” 

It helps that Judith is an older female and has the calm that maturity brings. 

“She’s been very docile; she’s been very easy to work with, which is a great pleasure,” Danny says.

Margaret laughingly adds that it helps that mother bat has no teeth, which is natural given her age.

Margaret and Danny are the only carers in Wingham, with carers in Johns River, Port Macquarie, and Kempsey to help.

The other carers were similarly excited and surprised, as too often FAWNA carers are faced with the situation of having to perform emergency c-sections on the mother immediately after she dies in an effort to save the baby. 

“We’re tickled pink that Mum gave birth,” Margaret says. “The other carers were congratulating us - we didn’t do anything, she did it all!”

The horrors of barbed wire

Barbed wire is responsible for the death of countless numbers of Australian wildlife, including grey-headed flying foxes – a protected threatened species, and other bats.

“It’s a horrific death. Not just for bats,” Margaret says.

Bats will try and chew themselves off the fence. In attempting to chew through barbed wire, they can destroy their mouths.

It’s a horrific death. Not just for bats.

Margaret Cain

“Their top palate breaks, they lose their teeth and we’ve actually seen them where the mess is so intense that the inside of the whole mouth is just mangled, and they have to be euthanised. Some of them are horrific,” Margaret explains.

“Just imagine what you can do to your mouth on barbed wire.”

Too often the bats die and rot on fences, and miscarry or give birth prematurely while caught in netting or impaled on barbed wire.

“Depending on the time of year, we always have to check the ground around them to make sure she hasn’t had the baby and dropped it. Because if she’s caught in netting or barb she can’t negotiate her arms to bring the baby in,” Danny says.

What to do if you find a bat on your fence

DO NOT go anywhere near the animal and try and disentangle it yourself. You risk causing further serious injury to the bat if you do not know what you are doing. You are also put yourself at risk of contracting lyssavirus if you are bitten or scratched by the frightened animal. If you are bitten or scratched the animal must be tested for the virus and this means what could be a perfectly viable animal having to be euthanised.

The best thing to do is call FAWNA on their 24-hour number 6581 4141 as soon as you can. Without getting close to the bat, throw a towel, sheet, or something similar over the bat to cover it. This will calm it down, and protect it from possible attack by crows and other predators. 

Lessen the risk

There are a number of ways landholders can lessen the risk of injury or death to bats, birds, gliders and other native animals from barbed wire fences.

The first is to replace the top wire of barb with plain wire. 

Alternatively, as the top wire is a ‘sight wire’, you can do the following:

  • Cover the top wire with tubing.
  • Paint the top wire white.
  • Wrap or place used electric fencing tape on the top wire.
  • Anything that makes the top wire visible and/or harmless.
  • Do not plant native plants near barbed wire fences. Native plants are often food sources.