Bat woman on heroic mission to save lives

THIS is a busy time of year for the Shoalhaven’s own bat woman Gerardine Hawkins and her band of volunteers.

Just like the superhero, Ms Hawkins regularly ducks off to a secret location but she’s not fighting crime, she’s fighting for the lives of grey headed flying foxes.

As a member of Wildlife Rescue South Coast and the founder of the only bat clinic in NSW, Ms Hawkins has more than 100 bats in care and at various stages of readiness for release.

It is at this time of year that she takes advantage of a bat colony that visits the region to breed and raise its young.

“The bats are listed as vulnerable, close to endangered and about 200 recently died of dehydration in Adelaide, they almost lost the whole colony,” she said. 

Earlier this month, a Qantas jet delivered 15 surviving bats from the Adelaide colony.

Most of the animals are suffering from damaged wings and limbs after being caught in fruit tree nets and barbed wire fences. Many have to be raised by the volunteers.

Each week Ms Hawkins and the volunteers feed the bats 50 kilograms of fruit and each week comes the rewarding moment for the volunteers when a handful of the animals are released.

The release area is at a secret location near Nowra that offers the bats the habitat and proximity to food they require.

The colony has claimed a stand of wattle trees as its nursery and the trees are full of bats screeching, calling and moving about.

As the bats get closer to being returned to the wild they are transferred from the clinic to a large release enclosure under the wild bat colony.

The injured bats are kept in the enclosure for about three weeks to acclimatise and dehumanise.

Each bat is banded and has its serial number recorded on a medical history before being released into the colony. 

Ms Hawkins said in her 23 years of saving bats she had collected a number of injured bats that were banded. The oldest had been banded 17 years ago.

“We cover a large area, right down to the Victorian border,” she said.

“Most of the bats we have at the moment come from Sydney, the North Coast or the Southern Highlands,” she said.

Ms Hawkins encouraged people who came across trapped or injured bats to phone Wildlife Rescue South Coast on 0418 427 214.

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