A Million Camels Plague Australia

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October 26, 2009—Wild dromedary camels, brought to Australia in the mid-19th century to help explore and develop the outback, were left to breed and survive on their own. Now they number a million in the wild and have become pests, officials say.

© 2009 National Geographic (AP)

Unedited Transcript:

Camels are not usually associated with Australia, but Australia is home to the largest herd of feral camels in the world.

About 12,000 dromedary camels were brought to Australia in the mid-19th century to carry people and supplies during the exploration and development of the Interior but after the advent of the automobile, they were abandoned and left to fend for themselves.

The camels adapted very well on their own.

Today, the camels are found scattered throughout the interior, from Western Australia to Queensland, Recent research shows that the total population has reached staggering numbers.

SOUNDBITE (English): Jan Ferguson, Desert Knowledge Research Centre: "Well there's in excess of a million camels in Australia, wandering around various isolated outback locations and they are doing significant environmental and infrastructure damage. We estimate the infrastructure damage to be in the vicinity of AUD $14 million (USD $13 million) a year."

Wherever they go, feral camels leave a trail of destruction, with fences knocked down, waterholes fouled and vegetation stripped bare.

Ferguson says camels are quite choosy about what they eat, preferring bush fruits over plain grass.

If the population is not radically diminished, its thought that the camels could permanently destroy Australias delicate desert ecosystem.

The Australian government is preparing for a camel control program which is now in the planning stages.

Cattle ranchers have long been at odds with the roaming camels, which are viewed as competition for grazing areas.

About 25-thousand camels are killed each year here, and much of the culling is carried out by marksmen in helicopters and on the ground.

SOUNDBITE (English): Sharon Oldfield, Farmer: "I suppose with the numbers being so high, any that you take off is an improvement to what's already there." But that cant control a population thats exploding.

SOUNDBITE (English): Jay Weatherill, Minister for Environment and Conservation, South Australia "In South Australia alone we have 200,000 feral (wild/stray) camels. That number is projected to double in the next 10 years. The damage they cause to the environment is extraordinary."

The long-term aim is to reduce the camel population by as much as two thirds.

It seems the camels, once indispensable in building the outback's infrastructure and delivering supplies, have overstayed their welcome.

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