Australian feral camel
|Australian Feral Camel|
|Dromedary, Camelus dromedarius, the dominant species of the Australian feral camel|
|Species:||Camelus dromedarius, Camelus bactrianus|
|Camelus dromedarius, Camelus bactrianus
Thousands of the two main species of Australian feral camels, mostly dromedaries but also some bactrian camels, were imported into Australia, mainly from India, during the 19th century for transport and construction as part of the colonisation of the central and western parts of Australia. Motorised transport replaced the camels' role in the early 20th century and many were released into the wild.
As of 2009[ref][dead link], the feral population numbered about one million, with a doubling time of about nine years. These camels are being culled because they are degrading the environment and threatening native species. The feral camel population numbers of Australia have been grossly exaggerated and have recently been re- estimated down to around 300,000, as of 2013.
About 10,000 camels were imported into Australia between 1860 and 1907, primarily for transport use across the centre of the arid continent. Most of the camels brought to Australia were dromedaries, especially from India, including the Bikaneri war camel from Rajasthan as a riding camel and lowland Indian camels for heavy work. Other dromedaries included the Bishari riding camel of North Africa and Arabia. Camels from the other main camel species, bactrians, were introduced from China and Mongolia.
Australia is the only country where there are feral herds of camels, and are estimated to number more than 1,000,000, with the capability of doubling in number every nine years. Exports to Saudi Arabia where camel meat is consumed began in 2002.
The first camel
The first suggestion of bringing camels to Australia was made in 1822 by Conrad Malte-Brun, whose Universal Geography contains the following;
- "For such an expedition, men of science and courage ought to be selected. They ought to be provided with all sorts of implements and stores, and with different animals, from the powers and instincts of which they may derive assistance. They should have oxen from Buenos Aires, or from the English settlements, mules from Senegal, and dromedaries from Africa or Arabia. The oxen would traverse the woods and the thickets; the mules would walk securely among rugged rocks and hilly countries; the dromedaries would cross the sandy deserts. Thus the expedition would be prepared for any kind of territory that the interior might present. Dogs also should be taken to raise game, and to discover springs of water; and it has even been proposed to take pigs, for the sake of finding out esculent roots in the soil. When no kangaroos and game are to be found the party would subsist on the flesh of their own flocks. They should be provided with a balloon for spying at a distance any serious obstacle to their progress in particular directions, and for extending the range of observations which the eye would take of such level lands as are too wide to allow any heights beyond them to come within the compass of their view."
Decline in use and rise as a pest
Australia has the largest population of feral camels and the only herd of dromedary (one-humped) camels exhibiting wild behaviour in the world. (Other feral dromedary populations existed in the 20th century in Doñana National Park in Spain, and in the southwestern United States, while a small population of wild Bactrian camels still exists in the Gobi Desert.) Live camels are exported to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Brunei and Malaysia, where disease-free wild camels are prized as a delicacy. Australia's camels are also exported as breeding stock for Arab camel racing stables and for use in tourist venues in places such as the United States.
Impact on the environment
Although their impact on the environment is not as severe as some other pests introduced in Australia, camels ingest more than 80% of the plant species available. Degradation of the environment occurs when densities exceed two animals per km2, which is presently the case throughout much of their range in the Northern Territory where they are confined to two main regions: the Simpson Desert and the western desert area of the Central Ranges, Great Sandy Desert and Tanami Desert. Some traditional food plants harvested by Aboriginal people in these areas are seriously affected by camel-browsing. While having soft-padded feet makes soil erosion less likely, feral camels do have a noticeable impact on salt lake ecosystems, foul waterholes and destabilise dune crests, which contributes to erosion.
Effect on infrastructure
The effects on built infrastructure may be severe, as camels may sometimes destroy taps, pumps and even toilets as a means to obtain water, particularly in times of severe drought. They also damage stock fences and cattle watering points. These effects are felt particularly in Aboriginal and other remote communities where the costs of repairs are prohibitive. The problem with invading camels searching for water has become great enough that the Australian authorities have planned to eradicate as many as 6,000 camels that have become a nuisance in the community of Docker River, where the camels have caused severe damage in their search for food and water.
- Northern Territory Government. "Feral Camel — Camelus dromedarius". Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport. Retrieved 2 July 2009.[dead link]
- "Australia supplies Saudis with camels". BBC News (British Broadcasting Corporation). 11 June 2002. Retrieved 28 April 2013.
- "Camel fact sheet". DSEWPaC. 2009. Archived from the original on 2011-08-06. Retrieved 2011-08-06.
- Conrad Malte-Brun, Universal Geography: Containing the description of India and Oceanica, Volume III 'containing the description of India and Oceanica', Book LVI 'Oceanica', Part IV 'New Holland and its dependancies', p.568. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown, London 1822.
- From Australian outback to Saudi tables | csmonitor.com
- "Australia Plans To Kill Thirsty Camels". CBS News. Associated Press. 26 November 2009. Archived from the original on 27 November 2009. Retrieved 27 November 2009.
- Distribution and abundance of the feral camel (Camelus dromedarius) in Australia
- Camels Down Under, archived. Arthur Clark. pages 16–23 of the January/February 1988 print edition of Saudi Aramco World.
- National Feral Camel Action Plan
- Camels Australia Export Camel Industry Association website.