Thirsty Wild Camels Rampage in Aboriginal Community
SYDNEY -- Wild camels in drought-stricken Australia are in plague proportions, damaging the environment and property as they compete with native animals for food and water.
Camels "mad with thirst" recently rampaged through the Western Desert Aboriginal community of Warakurna, damaging toilets, taps and air conditioners to find water.
"There were a couple of hundred -- they get big mobs up here," the operator of the Warakurna Roadhouse said on Wednesday.
"They did a lot of damage searching for water, trampling air conditioning hoses, taps and pipes," she told Reuters by telephone from the remote roadhouse, about 800km (500 miles) west of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
Australia has the world's largest wild camel population. Camels were first brought to the country in the 18th century to help explorers venture into the dry interior.
"An estimated one million feral camels, whose numbers double every eight years, compete with native animals and livestock, threaten native plants, wreck fences, bores and tanks, and invade Aboriginal sites," said Glenn Edwards, from the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre.
The centre, established to pursue economic projects for outback Aborigines, said a national feral camel management plan was urgently needed.
The environmental impact of feral camels was most prominent in Australia's biggest state of Western Australia, where half the nation's feral camels are thought to roam.
Australia's worst drought in 100 years was to blame for the recent rampage by camels, but increasing numbers of wild camels has caused serious environmental, economic and cultural damage right across the outback for years, said Edwards, who works for Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife service. A national camel management plan should see a combination of methods to reduce camel numbers, from culling to live exports, said the centre.
"Some culling will be unavoidable," Edwards said in a statement ahead of a camel management meeting in Perth in Western Australia on Thursday. "In unpopulated areas, for example in the Simpson Desert, culling will be the only option."
Most camels are currently exported live to Southeast Asia where they are slaughtered. The lack of a camel meat export licensed abattoir prevents direct camel meat exports.
The Centralian Advocate newspaper in Alice Springs this month reported thousands of camels were dying of thirst at Docker River some 600 km (370 miles) west of Alice Springs, but local Aborigines refuse to cull the thirsty animals.
"The camels do a lot of damage to the land, and when there's no water, they come into the community and cause damage," Docker River community adviser Chris Moon told the newspaper.
The camel problem was so bad at the even more remote Warakurna, a community of 140 people, that shooters had been hired to kill 100 camels a week, said the newspaper.
Warakurna will freeze the meat and transport it to Perth in Western Australia as pet meat, said the newspaper.