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7th Nov 2008

'Hugo' Grey-headed Flying Fox

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An orphaned Grey-headed Flying Fox named ‘Hugo' is being bottle fed by dedicated Taronga keepers after its mother passed away from severe leg injuries.

Carers from Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Service delivered tiny Hugo to the Zoo's Wildlife Hospital three weeks ago when he was just eight days old. Sadly Hugo's mother was discovered in Waterloo, with the infant clinging onto her despite severe leg injuries which she did not recover from. 

After a complete health check and blood tests at the Zoo's Wildlife Hospital, Taronga Zoo Keeper, Rochelle Bishop has since become Hugo's surrogate mother, bottle feeding the tiny Flying Fox or Fruit Bat five times a day.

"Now at four weeks of age, little Hugo is thriving. He's currently being fed a special substitute bat milk which provides him with a variety of natural nutrients and proteins that he otherwise would have received from his mum'.

"Being a Fruit Bat, Hugo has also just been introduced to his first solid food, stewed apple which seems to be his favourite meal of choice at the moment."

Slowly Hugo will be weaned from the bottle and introduced to more stewed fruit and blossoms. In the wild Flying Foxes feed on a variety of fruits, berries and nectar.

"Since flight is the main form of transport for Fruit Bats, apart from his daily feeds, Hugo also enjoys exercise sessions which include flapping and stretching his wings to ensure he doesn't lose muscle tone located in the delicately thin bat wing membrane," said Rochelle.

Hugo will remain with Rochelle until January when he will be transferred to a bat crèche where he can socialise with other orphaned Flying Fox youngsters, learn how to fly and becomes skilled at collecting his own food. There will be limited human contact at this time so that Hugo becomes independent and learns how to care for himself before being released with the rest of the fruit bat orphans.

Sadly, Hugo's story is not an uncommon one. Many young Flying Foxes become orphaned after their mothers get caught in netting which is used to protect fruit trees, or tangled in powerlines and electrocuted. Numerous bats also succumb to heat stress whilst habitat loss and drought affect the species greatly with minimal fruit, flowers and nectar available to them.

Flying Foxes play a vital role in Australia's forests spreading the seeds of trees and plants from which they have eaten through their droppings. Every bat which is rescued when orphaned or injured and can be returned to the wild helps regenerate Australia's native bushlands.

Flying Foxes were first found in fossil records dating back 35 million years ago.  They arrived in Australia during the ice ages, by flying the short distances between islands when sea levels were much lower.

There are five species of bats, the Red, Grey-headed and Black Flying Foxes. The Grey-headed and Black Flying Foxes are mostly coastal but the little Red Flying Fox is highly nomadic following the flowering of eucalypts along the coastal and inland rivers.

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