JUST as wildlife experts predicted, the grey-headed flying foxes from the large migratory population at Lake Guthridge and Lake Guyatt in Sale have moved off in search of food and a new home.
The significant size of the colony that came to Sale early last year is thought to be a result of the loss of habitat in eastern Victoria after the 2019-2020 fires, and last year's one-in-20-year prolific flowering of local red gums.
While they are undoubtedly important for the environment, and have been around for thousands of years, their presence in Sale evoked fear and revealed a lack of understanding of the natural world among a small group of residents.
Social media posts revealed the extremes of views, with some calling for them to be removed, some claiming they "stink" and others saying they were "bad" for the environment.
Grey-headed flying foxes are Australia's largest native bat, and as pollinators, play a crucial role in the health of forests.
They pollinate flowers and disperse seeds as they forage on the nectar and pollen of eucalypts, melaleucas and banksias and on the fruits of trees and vines, flying tens of kilometres every night.
A DELWP-registered wildlife carer said grey-headed flying foxes were migratory by nature, and moved depending on the climate and the flowering and fruiting patterns of their food sources.
She said the several thousand flying foxes that made their temporary home around lakes Guthridge and Guyatt were always expected to move on as the weather turned colder and food supplies dwindled.
"They most likely moved to the lake area because of food shortages further east, where fires wiped out hundreds of thousands of hectares of native forests, and now most of them have left," she said.
The native mammals are protected under the Wildlife Act 1975 as they are a nationallythreatened species.
Penalties apply for harassing or disturbing them.
Grey-headed flying foxes pose no risk to humans when they are flying overhead or roosting. But they should not be handled because of the risk that a tiny percentage may carry Australian bat lyssavirus or Hendra virus.
Neither droppings or urine can spread these viruses, so it is not dangerous to have a colony sited nearby.
Anyone who sees a bat on the ground or low in trees (which indicates it may need help) should alert Wildlife Victoria on 98400 7300 or DELWP on 136 186.