Despite being one of the hottest and most rugged regions of Australia, the Pilbara has a very rich and intriguing biodiversity.
The Packsaddle Ranges at Mining Area C (MAC) are home to a population of Ghost Bats – the largest carnivorous bat in the Pilbara. Being nocturnal, Ghost Bats are entirely dependent on access to caves, where they shelter from the heat of the day. Without access to cool caves, they would dehydrate and die very quickly.
Ghost Bats are under threat in the Pilbara, partly because the caves, or roosts, they rely upon tend to co-occur with iron ore deposits, or the old mining shafts they often colonise are beginning to collapse with age. The biological science community is also increasingly concerned that Ghost Bats are being heavily impacted by the advance of the cane toad through the Kimberley.
There are estimated to be 100 Ghost Bats in the central Pilbara and between 1000 and 2000 in the Hamersley Ranges.
“This breeding season, employees from Mining and Exploration were invited to assist in the collection of data to learn more about the Ghost Bat roosts around MAC and how the bats were using them,” said Laura Kingshott, Senior Environmental Advisor at MAC.
In November, over a six day period, a team of ecologists visited the Pilbara to map the caves frequented by Ghost Bats, set up video camera traps and collect recordings. Scats, or bat faeces, were also collected as a means of determining the level of use of each cave and whether they were being used for breeding.
Eight operational personnel from MAC and the Central Pilbara Exploration team assisted the team of ecologists, enabling twice the expected number of caves to be assessed. Gary Douglas and Jessica Higgins from the MAC Engineering team will be using the learnings from their experience to inform an upcoming project with the MAC Environment team to develop an alternative Ghost Bat roost habitat at MAC.
Four Ghost Bats were seen during the survey and 100 gigabytes of data was collected from the camera traps and SM2 bat recorders. Analysis of the data and scats collected will take some time, however our knowledge of this unique species and how it uses the environment around our mine sites will be greatly improved thanks to this work.