Fruit Farmer's Livelihood Destroyed By Environmentalists
' Court pulls the plug on bat-zappers' by Brian Williams (The Courier-Mail, 23/12/2004)

A judge yesterday ordered a farming couple to stop electrocuting black flying foxes in the first case brought by a private citizen under Queensland's Nature Conservation Act.

In the Planning and Environment Court, Judge Tony Skoien ordered farmers Merv and Pamela Thomas not to kill flying foxes on their property at Mutarnee, 65km north of Townsville, until a permanent injunction was sought next year.

The case was brought by Queensland Conservation Council member Carol Booth. In 2001 Dr Booth took action in the Federal Court to stop Rohan and Francis Bosworth of nearby Kennedy from electrocuting bats.

Outside court yesterday, Dr Booth said although electrocuting bats was illegal, having the grids on a property was not.

"On private property and often out of sight, electric grids are impossible to police properly," Dr Booth said. "That a private citizen is taking legal action for the second time against illegal use of electric grids says it is time for the Government to require the grids to come down. If it were koalas being killed like this, the community would be outraged."

Dr Booth said the grids on about 20 farms were effectively a wall of death to anything that flew into them. Since the 1980s they would have killed hundreds of thousands of animals.

A spokeswoman for acting Environment Minister John Mickel said electric grids had a legitimate role in deterring wildlife, so long as they were not lethal.

"At non-lethal voltages they may continue to be used, but only where a permit is issued and only where users agree to strict conditions," she said.

In an affidavit to the court, Dr Booth said she had gone to the Thomases' property and found and filmed 30 dead bats.

Mr Thomas said he was losing 90 per cent of his crop to bats, about three tonnes of fruit or $15,000 a night.

He had turned off his electric fences but was working on a system that delivered a mild but not lethal shock. His fences recorded the number of times they were struck by bats.

"Three nights ago, we had 1150 bats in the orchard," he said.

Mr Thomas said it would cost him $1.2 million to net his orchard, which would put him out of business. Non-lethal fencing would cost 10 per cent of that. He did not know how many bats had been killed on his property.