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Camel threat to Australian wildlife.

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Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre


August 10, 2009 - for immediate release

The world’s largest feral camel herd is posing a major threat to rare and endangered Australian


Destruction of desert waterholes and soaks by a feral camel population estimated at more than one

million over an area of 3.3 million square kilometres was a real and present danger to unique

Australian marsupials, reptiles, birds and other native animals in desert areas, the Managing Director

of the Desert Knowledge CRC, Jan Ferguson, said today.

“In Australia, DKCRC research has established that camels are out of control over huge areas of the

continent. They are causing havoc with desert ecosystems, Aboriginal cultural heritage and the

pastoral industry,” she said.

Ms Ferguson was responding to criticism of the recent decision by the Australian Government to

launch a camel control program in Central Australia by a US financial journalist.

“The camel has become the rabbit of Australia’s desert regions - its population is increasing by about

80,000 animals every year. In several areas camels have pushed rare native plants to the point of

local extinction and, by drinking sparsely-scattered waterholes dry, they directly threaten native wildlife

that has relied on these for millennia.

“Many of these plants and animals lie at the heart of traditional Aboriginal belief systems, so some of

the world’s oldest continuous human cultural traditions are also at risk.

“Responsible, managed and humane control of camels is essential if we are to preserve our desert

heritage, just as it is essential to control the feral rabbit pest in farming areas.”

The responsibility for co-ordinating a national control program involving some 40 State and

Commonwealth agencies was recently delegated by the Federal Government under its ‘Caring for Our

Country’ program to the Desert Knowledge CRC through Ninti One the parent company.

In December 2008 DKCRC released the most detailed study of the impact of feral camels on the

Australian deserts ever compiled. It was produced by a research team led by Glenn Edwards of the

Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, The Arts and Sport, and Professor

Murray McGregor of Curtin University.

It found camels inflict around $15m in economic damage a year on an area covering one third of the

continent. The pastoral industry loses millions every year in wrecked water points, windmills and

fences and lost effort.

In the environment, the report says, there is extensive damage to mulga communities in certain areas,

while camels may drive desert quandongs (native peach trees) to local if not regional extinction.

Camels also empty precious waterholes and destroy wetlands on which native desert animals and

birds depend for survival, especially during prolonged drought.

“Camels are having a major impact on Aboriginal cultural plants, bush foods and medicines. They

often invade remote communities in search of feed and water and can be aggressive and dangerous

towards humans. They have caused a number of motor accidents,” adds report lead author Glenn

Edwards. “As desertifiers, camels add to global warming and are a risk for the spread of animal


The decision to control a feral pest animal was a serious one, and was never taken lightly, Ms

Ferguson said. “People who question this decision also need to understand what else is at risk - the

future of a number of rare native species which depend on the very scarce food and water resources

available in one of the world’s largest desert regions, and the human cultural heritage that relates to


“Extinction levels of Australian native desert animals are already among the world’s highest. The

impact of introduced feral animals in predation or competing for scarce resources of feed and water is

a major cause of this,” she says. “Deserts are places where resources for survival are naturally sparse

and uncertain; when you introduce a major new competitor, it takes over resources that are vitally

needed by indigenous species.

“The aim of the control program is not to eliminate feral camels - that is considered almost impossible.

It is to limit their numbers to a level which permits indigenous species to survive. The Australian

Government’s control program has a risk management approach which is based on the level of threat

which camels pose to indigenous Australian species, landscape, communities and the grazing industry

in particular regions.”

More information:

Jan Ferguson, Managing Director, DKCRC, 08 8959 6041 or 0401 719 882

Craig James, General Manager Commercialisation and Communication, DKCRC, 0408 838 194

Prof. Julian Cribb, DKCRC media, 0418 639 245