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February 28, 2021

Cocos palms prove deadly for wildlife

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Grey-headed flying-fox caught in South-American Cocos palm. Photo Shaun Murphy.

The Cocos palm is a South-American palm used to be a popular garden and street tree for its fast growth and tropical appearance. It is proving deadly to native wildlife. WIRES were called to Casino when a local noticed a  the local currawongs swooping something stuck high in a palm tree. It was a Grey-headed flying-fox which had become entangled in the palm fronds. This species is classified as vulnerable to extinction on the Federal Threatened Species list.

Grey-headed flying-fox caught in South-American Cocos palm. Photo Shaun Murphy.

Starving bats are attracted to the green seeds of the Cocos palm as well as the palm fronds which can provide a feed of insects such as lerps. The fronds become split and stringy, creating a trap for entanglement. 

Steve Cubis Tree Services trying to rescue the Grey-headed flying-fox caught in South-American Cocos palm. Photo Shaun Murphy.

Local wildlife carers were unable to reach the bat with ladders and Steve Cubis of Steve Cubis Tree Services came to the rescue, travelling with his vehicle from Lismore to assist. Unfortunately the flying fox died just before being rescued. 

This was the second death of a bat caught in Cocos palms in a single day,’ said a spokesperson for WIRES. 

The Cocos palm ‘is now regarded as an environmental weed due to its rapid spread into bushland and its harmful effect on many species of wildlife. The fruit can be toxic for animals and the fibrous seeds can create gut obstruction as well as become wedged in the teeth of animals, preventing further intake of food.’

You can help wildlife on a local level by removing any Cocos palm trees you may have in your yard. Hand pull or chip seedlings that come up around the base of trees and pick up dead fruit and dispose of them thoughtfully. Encouraging your friends and family to do the same. Before cutting down any mature palm trees please call WIRES NR hotline on 66281898 for advice as possums and gliders may be nesting in the crown of the palm.

An all-volunteer organisation, WIRES relies heavily on the generosity of caring people for support. All donations $2 and over are tax deductible. Now is also a great time to join WIRES and start learning to be a wildlife rescuer. Our 24-hour hotline is for all rescue, advice or membership calls in the Northern Rivers – call 6628 1898 or goto find out how you can help.

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  1. Hmm,

    This species of palm has been responsible for providing massive amounts of food for flying foxes along the east coast of Australia and in the western parts of Sydney it is a major food source. Flying foxes are responsible for the spread of the seeds. I am unaware of any peer reviewed research that shows that its fruit is toxic to any animals or that this palm is a significant problem for any native fauna. While it is true that an occasional animal has problems with the the seed this is true of any large fleshy fruit with a large seed. The trunks of palms that are removed are fed to elephants at a number of zoos

    Its easy to point the finger when a scientific approach is not required.

  2. Hi Kathy,

    Unfortunately, the site at the hyperlink does not reference a single scientific paper. here is a link to a paper that does list causes of death – https://tinyurl.com/y5om5dtm.

    While I accept the hypothesis that Cocos palms may on rare occasions result in the death of a flying fox. The death may be through choking or toxicity from eating greed fruit when there is a shortage of food (the alternate is starvation). This does not mean that Cocos Palms are detrimental to flying foxes.

    The reason that the government has subsidised a Cocos palm removal program is for the opposite reason. If you read the material, removing the palms reduces the presence of bats from those yards. The bottom line is that, as a result of deforestation in urban areas, Cocos palms are an important food source for the flying foxes. When it comes to choking, the same is true for food and people https://tinyurl.com/y42e2ma2

    For the sake of the flying foxes, let’s rely on evidence-based science and not needlessly remove a valuable food source.



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