Happy ending

Was it really Goebbels who said, “One death is a tragedy; a million is a statistic”? For some reason, he’s always been linked to that quote in my mind, but that could be because I come from that particular generation of postwar British kids for whom bomb sites and Nazis were part of the cultural landscape.

Crowds of anything are always intimidating: skinheads, locusts, people wrapped in Australian flags. Any individual, when multiplied, becomes a horrible mass; a statistic. It can be strangely rare for us to experience any mass of horrible things reduced to its individual components. Today that happened to me.

Flying foxes have come to be judged not as groups of individual creatures but as natural phenomena, like bushfires and tsunami. The councillors at Singleton and Lorne and God knows how many other towns have been vexed with the issue of ‘plagues’ of them for a few years now, their incessant chattering keeping people awake at night, their poop soiling people’s cars and their bite carrying the possibility of disease. (Flying foxes, that is, not councillors. Though …)

We have our own flocks in Newcastle; in fact, artist Christine Bruderlin has included them in her “ABC of Newcastle” series of greeting cards:

There’s a roost in Richardson Park and the figs that overhang Styx Creek are often filled with flying foxes as they pause in their journey between the bigger roosts at Blackbutt and Ash Island.

This morning, Jambo was attracted to something near the Chatham Road bridge. A few crows were dancing around it and I assumed that someone had chucked a bag of old sausages over the parapet. (Bizarrely, that is not nearly so rare or unusual an event as it might sound.) But the thing, the thing that I thought was a black plastic bag, suddenly reared up and screamed in fear. It was a flying fox.

I’ve never seen a live flying fox so close up before. She was gorgeous, this one, in spite of the fact that she was injured, disorientated and terrified. I’ve never seen such huge, round eyes. Her fur was dark, with a coffee-coloured ruff.

How did I know she was a she? Because her baby (kit? cub?) was clinging to her chest as she dragged herself along the concrete, desperately trying to find something to climb. (Flying foxes can’t lift off from the ground like a bird, they have to drop and swoop from an elevation.) It was the baby that the crows were after, at least in the first instance. The mother’s wings were bloodied from the abrasion of the concrete.

What to do? I called WIRES on my mobile but they were flat out.

Do I risk running home for a pillowcase, leaving mum and bub to the mercy of the crows? In the end, I did that. Luckily not much more damage had been done by the time I got back, with leather gloves and a couple of pillowcases. As soon as I covered her the fight seemed to go out of her and she just became very small and quiet.

After a few phone calls I finally got through to Sandy and John. These local heroes nurse flying foxes back to good health, an action that I’m sure some people would see as akin to breeding rats or mosquitos or some other kind of vermin. Nothing could be further from the truth; these people are pure animal lovers. It was remarkable to see how the flying fox responded to John’s tender approach. He’d already prepared a safe cage for the fox and her baby, following my phone call to Sandy.

Here, he’ll assess their health once they’re a little less stressed (apparently the mothers lose the ability to provide milk if stressed, but John and Sandy have a hand-delivered formula for the young).

By the time I left she’d calmed down considerably. I’m hoping this story has a happy ending; I’ll keep you up to date.

28 Responses to Happy ending

  1. Kristen says:

    Beautiful story! Thumbs up to you for going out of your way to save a life (or 2, in this instance). Animals need love too.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Hi Kristen

      Mixed results, as it turned out. Sadly, the young one was too injured and traumatised and didn’t pull through. The mother had broken thumbs (the bony digits at the front of the wing), which is bad news for a flying fox, but I just got off the phone to Sandy and the fox is getting good care from a vet nurse in Sydney.


  2. Steve A says:

    Poor thing – but kudos to all who tried to help, and to Kristen for your interesting and thoughtful insights

    • Mark MacLean says:

      I’ll follow up again shortly with Sandy to see how the bat’s going, but with broken thumbs she might end up not going back to the wild. Not great, but better than the alternative.

      • Kristen says:

        Definitely better than the alternative! I hate to hear about the little one, but hopefully at least the mama will pull through. Please share when you get some info on her status. 🙂

  3. thanks appreciate you helping.


    • Mark MacLean says:

      Hello James, I went and had a look at your site. A whole world of bats out there! Thanks for the link, which people seem to have enjoyed. Regards, Mark

  4. bjb55 says:

    What an amazing rescue. Many many thanks John for your concern and understanding, and especially your knowledge not to handle the flying fox but to run home for a pillow case and gloves. Sorry the poor mum wont be going back to the wild, but hopefully she can become an educational bat, a VIP role and much better than the alternative. Hopefully her pup would have been cared for and eventually released back to the wild.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Hi bjb, the rescue was quite a big deal for me, but (sadly) everyday work for John and Sandy.

  5. ash_northqld says:

    Thank you so much for your kindness. These animals are incredible, and you aided in preventing ongoing suffering for both mum and bub. Hopefully she pulls through, and goes on to have plenty more pups in the future. You can only do your best, and in most cases something is so, so much better than nothing. From a fellow animal lover (and wildlife carer).

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Hi Ashton. If only people could see them close up, one-on-one, I’m sure they’d lose their fear and suspicion. As you say, you can only do your best.

  6. llwynn says:

    Mark, you’re a hero, thanks for caring for native wildlife — most people are too scared and clueless to have any idea what to do when they find an injured animal. Especially a bat, which, as you say, has such a negative reputation. Since you seem to have an affinity for it, you should consider get trained to be a WIRES volunteer!

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Thanks, llwynn! Now that my kids are fledglings themselves, and (hopefully!) about to fly the nest, I’m hoping to have more time for that kind of thing.

  7. Annette says:

    Sandy and John are my bat heroes. Hi guys. I miss you both

  8. Carole West says:

    Great experience Mark. Outcome not good but you dont know until you try. I cant understand why so many people just dont ‘see’ flyingfoxes In trouble. When doing a rescue its common for the animal to have been in need for days – on the ground, on power lines,on barbed wire, in netting, but have been deemed invisible by prejudices. Makes me wonder what else we’re culturally conditioned not to see.

  9. Good on you, mate! Flying-foxes are much maligned in this country. I think once people meet them up close, they realise how absolutely sweet and intelligent they are. Sorry to hear the little one didn’t make it, but hopefully the mum will pull through. I’ve seen wild adults missing one or even both thumbs, and incredibly, they seem to manage.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Yes, Heather, it was her eyes that struck me as so full of intelligence. Very lovely animals that, I agree, more people would tolerate if only they could see close up.

  10. Christopher Terkel says:

    Thank you so much! I’ve loved bats all my life. They get a lot of undeserved bad press, primarily due to ignorance.

    • Mark MacLean says:

      Bat really are a polarising creature, aren’t they? The fear they generate is so out of proportion to the threat the offer; is it something to do with the numbers? Why then aren’t people freaked out by flocks of cockatoos? I have no answers!

  11. Nancy in California says:

    Wonderful story, Mark. You gave the baby and mom a chance and that means a lot. Bats are so misunderstood. Love the story!

  12. John Antilety says:

    Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.

  13. Jenni says:

    Thank you for helping the poor scared bat (the description of her tore at my heart). Most people would have ignored her. I’m sad to read about the nub, but at least the mother might make it thanks to you and the carers.

  14. Thanks so much for caring!!!

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