Camel numbers halved in national cull

By Amy Middleton with AAP 21 November 2013
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Reports from a recent feral camel cull estimate numbers have been reduced to 300,000 – half the population in 2008.

A FERAL CAMEL CULL may have halved the population of the wild animals across Australia over the past four years, according to a report.

In results released this week, the Australian Feral Camel Management Project (AFCMP) claims camel numbers have been reduced to about 300,000, down from an estimated 600,000 in 2008, due to a variety of culling methods including shooting and transportation to abattoirs.

The project also claims to have developed sound methods to keep numbers low over the coming years.

“Most people would prefer these animals went to some kind of productive use,” says Jan Ferguson, managing director of Ninti One, the organisation behind the project.

“However, when they are in significant numbers, doing damage to communities or environmental assets, people want them removed and that’s where culling comes in.”

Camels introduced to Australia

Camels were introduced to Australia as pack animals during the 1840s. As cars rose to popularity, however, large numbers of camels were set free in the outback. It is estimated populations may have reached as high as 1 million in years past.

Jan says pinpointing an exact number of feral camels is very difficult. “We’ve taken out 160,000 in this project. We also believe that potentially 100,000 camels died in the Simpson Desert as a result of a lack of feed and drought.”

The AFCMP says camels take their toll on environments and biodiversity by overgrazing and fouling water supplies. In addition, they can destroy Aboriginal cultural sites and farm infrastructure, such as fences and water points, as well as threatening human safety by wandering onto roads and airstrips.

Run in collaboration with 20 organisations, including the RSPCA and the Australian Camel Industry Association, the project covered more than 3 million square kilometres of affected land. Traditional landowners and pastoralists were given three options: ground-based shooting, aerial shooting or trucking the camels to abattoirs for commercial use.

Wayne Boardman, a lecturer in wildlife and conservation at the University of Adelaide, says the cull is a step forward. “Camels are introduced and have not coevolved with the Australian landscape – they are not part of our natural heritage and they are contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.”

Feral management: Camel culling

Although Wayne acknowledges that some people have ethical issues with culling, he believes it is a logical solution. “It can be a contentious issue, however, as long as culling is done in the most humane way possible and the animals’ welfare is considered throughout, I believe it’s the right thing to do.“

Wayne says the crucial matter is to maintain control of the numbers with further funding, as camel populations can increase by up to 10 per cent per year.

“If you neglect management, the population will soon soar and the costs involved to control the numbers in the future will increase many times,” Wayne says. “Now we have a good opportunity to get on top of the problem, we should take it.”

Jan agrees. “We’d hope the ground control training we’ve done and work with commercial industries means camel densities can be kept low,” she says.

“You can only ever manage a feral. You can’t eradicate it.”