Zoo veterinarians help precious wild animal soar once again

Flying fox surgery by veterinary nurse Layla Merritt at Werribee Open Range Zoo (Zoos Victoria)

Werribee Open Range Zoo’s team of expert veterinarians has performed life-saving surgery to help one of Australia’s most precious wild animals return to the night skies.

A Grey-headed flying fox was returned to its Geelong home last month, after becoming entangled and breaking its wing in old fruit tree netting in January.

The flying fox underwent two critical life-saving operations and spent time rehabilitating with a wildlife carer during its three-month recovery.

Werribee Open Range Zoo associate veterinarian Dr Paul Eden said the animal’s condition was precarious when first found.

“Flying foxes are highly dependent on their wings for many purposes,” Dr Eden said.

“They can fly an astonishing 6,000km in a year to search for food and pollinate a wide range of plants, supporting ecosystems such as entire eucalypt forests, an important habitat for animals like koalas and possums. They also use their wings to help capture insects, regulate body temperature, and attract other flying-foxes during mating season. So, it was extremely important that we did everything we could to help this animal make a full recovery.”

To assist with the recovery process, vets operated to remove some of the damaged wing tissue and administered antibiotics and pain relief.

Following the successful procedure, the flying fox was transferred to the wildlife carer to prepare it for release back into the wild.

Dr Eden said it was extremely rewarding to see the flying fox return to full heath and safely returned to the wild as the species has a critical role in Australia’s ecosystem, supporting both animal and human life.

“Our ecosystem would be dramatically different, or cease to exist altogether, without flying foxes. If we don’t have flying foxes, we don’t have forests, if we don’t have forests, we don’t have as much oxygen supply. They are critical to our survival.”

Dr Eden said there are some simple actions that people can take to keep flying foxes safe.

“We can greatly reduce the risk of entanglements by using nets with a mesh size of five-by-five millimetres or less at full stretch for fruit-trees or vegetable gardens. If you encounter a flying fox that is sick or in distress, for the safety of everyone, don’t attempt to rescue the animal yourself. Instead, contact Wildlife Victoria who will deploy a trained officer to rescue the animal.”

Grey-headed flying foxes are classified as vulnerable in the wild, with their population declining due to a reduction in food availability from the destruction of native habitat and impacts of climate change, particularly extreme heat, drought, and fires.

Zoos Victoria members and Werribee Open Range Zoo visitors are reminded that all tickets must be pre-booked online at zoo.org.au.