Australian Feral Camels Will Be Shot From Helicopters

ADELAIDE, Australia, April 26, 2005 (ENS) - Thousands of feral camels on South Australian rural lands will be culled by marksmen shooting from helicopters because they are encroaching on ranches, a state rural lands official told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation today.

Rural lands inspector Chris Turner said the camels are drinking scarce water supplies needed for sheep and cattle in the far northwest, so their numbers should be reduced. "The simplest, quickest and most cost effective way of doing that is an aerial cull," Turner said. The cull could begin as early as next month.

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A herd of feral camels crosses a dune ridge in Australia's Simpson Desert. (Photo courtesy Outback Camel Company)
The cull was proposed just 11 days after South Australian Premier Mike Rann together with Environment and Conservation Minister John Hill announced a legislative program to prevent cruelty to animals.

On April 15, Rann and Hill released a discussion paper, developed in collaboration with the Australian branch of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), proposing changes to the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act 1995.

“Anyone who is responsible for cruel acts against defenseless animals need to be made accountable for their actions,” said Premier Rann. The premier did not comment on the planned camel cull.

Animal welfare groups, including the RSPCA, were upset by the idea of shooting camels from the air because they may not be killed outright. Hugh Wirth, president RSPCA Australia said, "You cannot cleanly kill, instantly kill, humanely kill a moving animal from a moving platform."

Turner did not say how many camels would be killed from the air, but he said there are as many as 60,000 feral camels near ranch lands.

Turner is not the only state official who wants to take aim at the burgeoning camel population. Dr. Glenn Edwards, a senior scientist with the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission, says a national strategy is urgently needed to manage the growing camel population in Australia.

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Camels drink from a claypan after a storm in the Simpson Desert. (Photo courtesy Outback Camel Company)
He told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation April 13 that there are 700,000 feral camels across Australia and warned that the number will "double in eight years if the population continues to grow unchecked."

Currently, camel management in the Northern Territory is limited to the live muster of wild animals. The Central Australian Camel Industry Association currently harvests around 5,000 to 8,000 feral camels from the wild as an alternative meat resource, and sells live animals on both the domestic and international markets.

While this offtake is not enough to curtail population growth, the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Commission says, it reduces some of the pressure on the environment caused by wild camels. "In remote areas where it is not economically feasible to harvest camels, the only option available for reducing camel numbers and impacts is aerial culling," the agency said.

Between 1840 and 1907 up to 20,000 camels were imported into Australia to serve in exploration ventures and the cartage industry. Camels played an important role in the early development of the arid interior of the continent.

During the 1920s, trucks came into general use and reliance on the camel declined. Despite efforts to destroy unwanted camels during the 1920s, feral populations became established in many inland areas.

Feral camels now occupy an estimated 2.8 million square kilometers, or over 37 percent of the Australian mainland.