'Bat Tornado' Descends on Small Australian Town

A large fruit bat colony of "biblical plague proportions" has descended on a small town in Australia, causing havoc for local residents.

There are now so many of the bats—sometimes referred to as "flying foxes"—in the town of Ingham, Queensland state, that they outnumber the town's 4,300 residents by hundreds of thousands, news.com.au reported.

"It's like a bat tornado over the town," resident Adam Kaurila told news program A Current Affair.

The huge colony has taken over the town's Botanical Gardens and also moved into trees near the local primary school and kindergarten. Unfortunately for the residents, the colony only appears to be growing.

"It just seems to me that every bat in Australia is now in Ingham," Raymon Jayo, mayor of Hinchinbrook, told A Current Affair. "The problem that we're having is that we're seemingly being influxed by more and more animals and the roost cannot handle it."

Local residents have told of the unpleasant smell the bat colony has brought with it, as well as the constant screeching sounds that the animals make. Some parents are also worried that the bats could spread dangerous diseases.

Adam Kaurila and his wife Susanne have even considered taking their two daughters out of school until the animals are dispersed.

"They're not stepping a foot in that ground until something is, we know that is, being done," Susanne Kaurila said.

Bats in Australia can transmit diseases—such as Australian bat lyssavirus (ABL)— to humans via scratches or bites. However, the risk is low, Des Boyland from the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland told news.com.au.

ABL is very similar to the classical rabies virus and there have been three confirmed cases in Australia since it was first identified in the country in 1996—all of which resulted in death, according to the Australian Journal of General Practice.

Like rabies, there is no cure for ABL once symptoms have appeared. However, the spread of the disease can be prevented by rapid and thorough cleaning of the wound, in addition to prompt administration of rabies immunoglobulin and vaccine, according to the government of New South Wales.

flying fox
A grey-headed flying-fox flies through the air at the Royal Botanic Gardens March 20, 2008 in Sydney, Australia. Ian Waldie/Getty Images

Despite the potential health risk that they pose, the bats are protected under Queensland law. This means the local council has limited options when it comes to removing them.

There are several non-lethal techniques that can be used to try and disperse the animals—such as trying to scare them off with smoke, noise and light. However, local law states that these can't be used when the bats are breeding.

"There are four different species and because they all have young at different times, there's hardly a window of opportunity when we can interact with these bats to try and move them on," Jayo said.

In any case, Boyland points out that these techniques are "rarely very successful" when it comes to dispersing bat colonies—in addition to being expensive—while noting that the animals play an important role in the local ecosystem.