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Australia Has Largest Camel Population – And is Set on Killing Them

Australia Has Largest Camel Population – And is Set on Killing Them

How Australia became home to the world’s largest population of wild camels, and how it is seeking to reduce their numbers by killing the animals with sharpshooters, is a textbook example of what can happen when non-native species are imported.

The English introduced camels from Pakistan and India to Australia between 1840 and 1907 as pack animals. Some 20,000 were imported to transport freight and people in the outback, only to be released into the wild by their Asian handlers who did not want to destroy them in the 1920s and 1930s once trains and roads appeared and the camels were no longer needed.

The camels who today roam in the Australian outback are great great grandchildren of the original ones. While their ancestors played a key role in creating modern Australia, the “feral camels” are considered a “plague,” says a 2011 article in Discovery. Camels can take in more than 50 gallons of water in three minutes from waterholes and have been known to pull pipes and air-conditioning units off walls and break plumbing systems. They are able to eat high up into trees and their feeding has resulted in some plant species becoming locally extinct; they have damaged sites of cultural significance to aboriginal people. As camels have no natural predators in Australia, they have a low mortality rate.

A 2011 study by the Australian government’s Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency, described camels as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions with each camel estimated to produce 100 pounds of methane a year. But camel experts have countered that these findings as “false and stupid… a scientific aberration.”

Drought reduced the number of camels to about 750,000 in 2009 but the Australian government wants to lower their numbers even further and has been monitoring the camels. Under its Australian Feral Camel Management Project (AFCMP), the government has sought to control its wild camel population of 1.2 million by an aggressive culling effort.

Private contractors have been shooting the camels from helicopters, with the carcasses left to rot in the desert. ”Eradication” of camels is ” not the goal, and it could never be achieved in any case,” the Australian government’s AFCMP website claims. Its purpose (couched in proper bureaucratese) is to “reduce the density of feral camels to a level where their negative impacts are within acceptable limits.”

It is not clear how many efforts the Australian government has made to find more humane solutions to a problem created, after all, by humans. The government says that it is considering “viable proposals to export camels to the Middle East” as a ”good solution for a relatively small reduction in camel densities.” From 1988 to 2007, it exported 4,761 camels but says that there is currently ”no incentive for companies and individual landholders to invest in infrastructure.”

Animal welfare advocates and many others have expressed outrage at the mass killing of wild camels. In particular, Qataris and other Arabs are, says Al Jazeera, “horrified at the Youtube videos and photographs of the camel cull” as “for the Arabs, camels occupy an important place in culture, history and economics.” A Qatari businessman, Ali Sultan Al Hajri, who grew up illiterate and and raising camels until he was 17 — he still maintains a herd of camels — has traveled to Australia and is exploring whether there is an alternative to Australia’s current policy of killing the wild camels, says Al Jazeera.

The many wild camels in Australia offer a very cautionary tale of the results of importing non-native species without regard for long-term consequences. In all due regard to the important role camels played in developing Australia, the government needs to expand its efforts to find humane alternatives to controlling its wild camel population rather than hiring hunters to pull the trigger on them.

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254 comments

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2:27PM PDT on Sep 7, 2013

That's all human know to do is kill...Oh you have a problem with another species other than your own? Oh yes kill them that's the answer!!! Spay and Neuter is the answer folks! When we realize that HUMANITY includes animals we will have a more peaceful world. We need to give a voice to the animals...enough is enough!

7:14AM PDT on Mar 20, 2013

basta ammazzare gli animali come se fosse le mosche...non si puo più della crudeltà umana

6:25AM PDT on Mar 11, 2013

still unsure. I mean. you think "those Arabs" are going to treat them like a pamperd spoiled lapdog? or are they going to be used. You would fight tooth and nail and to the death if someone in Araziona had a camel riding tour, to 'end the exploitation'

at least now, if you kill them and eat them, "they die free"

I am not saying they treat their valuable camels poorly. just that, "they are exploited by humans"

you really want that?

4:19PM PST on Mar 1, 2013

It is important to remember that deserts are incredibly fragile ecosystems. We're talking about saving the existence of hundreds of species. It truly is a question of one for the good of many. You can complain that this is unfair to the camels, but how do you reason for the species that get trampled, drown, starve, or lose their homes to feral camels? If you want to play that card, give me some thoughts on that!

It is true that moving forward we should face the fact that novel ecosystems are going to be necessary for saving the planet, but that doesn't mean that it is going to be easy. The fact that the Australian Government is only interested in controlling their population amounts, and not interested in eradicating the species is great from a management perspective.

Furthermore, during a study abroad trip to Australia our Australian Landscape, Wildlife, and Conservation class learned that the continent is making aggressive efforts to corral and relocate feral camels. This option is usually avoided due to the extreme cost, time, man power, and stress to the animals.

1:09AM PST on Feb 1, 2013

Another example of human stupidity causing animals to suffer. The camels didn't ask to be brought here. A quick shot to the head or export via a long and traumatic ship journey to the Middle East, which isn't exactly known for its humane treatment of any animals. Not much of a choice.

6:23AM PST on Jan 26, 2013

I cannot sign the petition because of the destruction to the native flora and fauna that camels have caused, destruction that is causing extinction of habitat and species, but I would certainly prefer to see the camels rounded up and stopped from breeding if there is another way than just shooting them.

3:36PM PST on Jan 25, 2013

Actually complete culling does work. Already been done on the once massive buffalo numbers in the top end. In that instance they were able to round them up and slaughter them for meat and leather. In the case of the camels accessibility is limited.

11:24AM PST on Jan 25, 2013

If you watch the link from the post to the Al Jazeera video about exploring alternatives, it's really informative (although long - try skipping around).

Cattle are also a big problem for Australia's delicate flora and fauna, and there are even more of them grazing in Australia. If the Australian govt would put its money into developing an industry around camel milk and meat, these massive culls would be unnecessary.

Personally I'm not into the animal exploitation aspect of this, but it might be more humane than mass murder of camels.

BTW "culling" doesn't work. They've tried it (on a lesser scale) in the northeastern U.S. for the deer population, and while it may reduce the numbers temporarily, it also tends to make for increased births the following year because there's more food available for those who survive the culling.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

11:10AM PST on Jan 25, 2013

This is a very sad story. It's a reminder of what can happen with the introduction of non-native species. When humans screw up it's always the animals that suffer.

This sounds like a very serious problem for Australia's native ecosystem. Most likely more native plants and perhaps animals too will become extinct if something is not done. Simply the fact that camels consume so much water in water scarce Australia is going to impact native species negatively.

It would be great if some mid-eastern countries, where camels are native, could get involved. I doubt governments will but maybe a wealthy individual like Ali Sultan Al Hajri can help.

There have been some experiments with sterilization as a more humane way to handle the deer overpopulation problem in the northeast but nothing really successful yet.

It's hard to get the genie back in the bottle.

10:54AM PST on Jan 25, 2013

very sad news but thanks for sharing

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