About 100,000 bats have fallen from the sky and died during a heatwave in Australia that has left the trees and earth littered with dead creatures.
In scenes likened to “an Alfred Hitchock thought bubble”, a heatwave across the north-east state of Queensland in recent days caused mass deaths of flying foxes from an estimated 25 colonies.
“It’s a horrible, cruel way to die,” a conservation worker, Louise Saunders, told The Courier Mail.
“Anything over 43 degrees [Celsius, 109F] and they just fall. We’re just picking up those that are just not coping and are humanely euthanising what we can.”
Health experts have warned residents not to touch the dead creatures amid concerns about the spread of virus or bites and scratches from bats that may still be alive. At least 16 people have been are receiving antiviral treatment after coming into close contact with a bat.
“If you find a bat it is very important not to touch it because of the risk of infection with Australian bat lyssavirus,” the state’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, told APN.
“Some bats may appear dead but they are not and when people have attempted to remove them they have been bitten or scratched. Bats also have a claw on their wings which is a frequent cause of injury.”
The stench from the rotting carcasses has begun to disturb residents of Brisbane and large towns. Authorities have dispatched rubbish collectors to pick up thousands of carcasses from populated areas.
The RSPCA said the heatwave could have a devastating effect on the state’s wildlife.
“The heatwave was basically a catastrophe for all the bat colonies in south-east Queensland,” a spokesman, Michael Beatty, told ABC News.
“That’s obviously going to have a pretty disturbing impact on those colonies and those colonies are vital to our ecosystem.”