Thousands of Feral Camels in Australia Have Been Shot Dead in Cull Following Drought

Thousands of feral camels, which officials say pose a threat to communities in a remote part of Australia, have been culled following a drought in the region.

More than 5,000 wild camels were shot dead in an aerial operation in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) area governed by Aboriginal Australians, in the remote north west of South Australia. The campaign, in an area with a population of around 2,300, started Sunday and lasted five days, according to a statement from the governing body of the APY.

Struggling to survive a drought in the region, the camels have caused problems after heading from the "arid landscape" towards areas populated by humans in search of water. "Extremely large groups" of camels have been gathering in and around communities and APY hotspots, officials said.

APY Executive Board member Marita Baker, who lives in Kanypi, about 780 miles from Adelaide, said: "We have been stuck in stinking hot and uncomfortable conditions, feeling unwell, because all the camels are coming in and knocking down fences, getting in around the houses, and trying to get water through air-conditioners.

"They are roaming the streets looking for water. We are worried about the safety of the young children; they think it is fun to chase the camels, but it is of course very dangerous."

Authorities said the first major cull of feral animals in the region "was in urgent response to threats posed to communities by an increase in the number of feral camels due to drought and extreme heat." Below average levels of rain have fallen in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland, since early 2017, according to the Australian Government's Bureau of Meteorology. Last year was the driest year on record for the country.

"The culling operation was a last-resort measure to try and control the feral pests in accordance with the highest standards of animal welfare," authorities said.

APY General Manager Richard King said the population of non-native camels, which were first introduced to Australia by the British in the 1800s, had shot up in recent years. South Australia's Department for Environment and Water told local traditional landowners used to sell the camels, but populations have grown too large to manage.

The animals damage infrastructure and native vegetation, and have contaminated water sources and cultural sites, said King. They were also endangering families, he said, while increasing grazing pressure at a time of extreme heat and drought.

While native wildlife can withstand the prolonged dry period, it "leads to extreme distress for feral camels" said King. "As they search for water, weakened camels become stuck in remaining soaks and waterholes. When they die the carcasses are a huge source of contamination, and foul the water for other animals and birds," he explained.

Some animal rights activists argued culling the animals was not the best solution to the problem. But King said while the APY appreciated their concerns "there is significant misinformation about the realities of life for non-native feral animals, in what is among the most arid and remote places on Earth."

King argued the APY are custodians of the land, and need to deal with introduced pests "in a way that protects valuable water supplies for communities and puts the lives of everyone, including our young children, the elderly, and native flora and fauna first."

The decision to cull the animals was made following a meeting on December 11. The project involved the Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resources Management Board, the APY Executive Board of Management, and what were described as stakeholders and a majority of traditional land owners, including the 10 Deserts Project indigenous land management partnership.

The killings were "approved by authorities and regulators and conducted to the highest professional standards in the most human way," King said. The prospect of killing the animals presented a "spiritual conflict for some indigenous groups," but they recognised the need to manage the camels, according to King.

Michael Clinch, pastoral manager of the APY, described the cull as an "absolute success."

"APY are very grateful and extend a sincere thank-you to the professional commitment and the way that all teams carried out their duties both in the air and on the ground," he said.

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A stock image shows camels on a farm in Queensland, Australia Getty