THOUSANDS of grey-headed flying foxes have died at Blackalls Park over summer.
The deaths have been repeated up and down the east coast of Australia, raising concerns for the future of the species of furry pollinators.
Hunter Wildlife Rescue volunteer Ann Morgan said natural phenomena over summer had been "catastrophic" for flying foxes, which are also known as fruit bats.
Starvation events combined with heatwaves, drought and bushfires had taken a devastating toll, she said.
Even recent rains had added to the misery for flying foxes by washing nectar - an important food for the animals - from the remaining eucalypt blossoms, she said.
"We used to have thousands of flying foxes in the camp at Blackalls Park. Now we're down to a few hundred," Ms Morgan said.
On December 4, Ms Morgan received news that flying foxes had fallen to the ground in apparent heat stress at Blackalls Park.
"I got a call saying there's bats on the ground," she said.
"That started a massive rescue operation as our volunteers gave the flying foxes fluids and tried to cool them down to keep them alive.
"We lost 70 on that first day.
"Since then there's been 3,500 bodies found at Blackalls Park."
Ms Morgan urged locals to take some simple steps to help flying foxes survive.
"I'm asking people to have some tolerance," she said.
"If you have fruit trees, allow the flying foxes access to your fruit trees."
She said residents who preferred to cover their fruit trees with netting should use only netting with a small mesh that prevented flying foxes, birds and possums from becoming entangled.
"People could also leave fruit out for the flying foxes.
"You can simply straighten out a wire coat hanger, and push the wire through apples, then hook the ends of the coat hanger up in a tree."
Ms Morgan agreed Australians don't generally look upon flying foxes with the same fondness as, say, koalas.
After all, flying foxes are known to carry two viruses which, in rare cases, can be infectious to humans - Australian bat lyssavirus and Hendra virus.
And when large and loud flying fox camps decide to visit residential areas and defecate over people's homes, cars, clotheslines, and garden furniture, it can stretch the friendship.
But Ms Morgan said the key was education.
"If you don't have flying foxes, you won't have koalas, because flying foxes pollinate trees," she said.
"Every species has a role in the environment, and flying foxes are great pollinators and seed spreaders, and they're vitally important to the survival of our forests."
She said she understood the distress that residents felt when impacted by large numbers of flying foxes.
But some tolerance and understanding of local wildlife was important, too, she said.
"People choose to live here. This is Australia. This is what we have here," she said. "We have to accept this is the environment we live in. It's not all cute and cuddly."
Ms Morgan said the health threat posed to humans by flying foxes was negligible.
"In 200 or so years, only three people have died from lyssavirus. If you don't go near them [flying foxes] you've got no concern."
Ms Morgan said the decline of flying foxes was not simply a natural event, and that human intervention had been a major factor.
"We don't have the trees and the forests we once had, and we've changed so many water courses. We have to be responsible for what we've done," she said.
Flying foxes have been classified as 'vulnerable' in NSW, and Ms Morgan said there were now genuine concerns about the animal's long-term survival.
"This year, we've basically lost a generation of flying foxes," she said.