Why Camels were Brought to Australia
In the early 1800s no European man had ventured into the vast interior of the Australian continent. Many explorers had tried but almost all of their attempts had ended in failure. One of the main reasons for their failure was the lack of a suitable pack animal capable of handling the dry, rough often sandy terrain of the Australian Outback. In 1822 a Danish-French geographer named Malthe Conrad Bruun first suggest that the camel may be the solution to this problem.
The first camel was purchased from the Spanish on the Canary Islands and arrived in Australia in 1840 and was part of an expedition into the interior lead by John Horrocks. Unfortunately this animal was instrumental in Hancocks's accidental death and was shot.
In 1860, 24 camels and 3 camel-drivers (cameleers) were imported from India to join the Burke and Wills expedition into the interior of Australia. The expedition was a disaster, with both Burke and Wills losing their lives, but the camels proved their usefulness. Some camels in this expiation escaped and may have formed the first contingent of the feral camel population of Australia.
Having proven their usefulness huge numbers of camel were imported into Australia. In the period 1870 to 1900 alone, more than 15,000 camels and 3,000 cameleers arrived in Australia.
These animals and their drivers provided a vital service in the exploration of the interior of Australia, in the setting up of the first telegraph line through the desert from Adelaide to Darwin and in the construction of the railroad between Port Augusta and Alice Springs. This railroad is known today as the Ghan, in honour of the cameleers who lead the camel teams in its construction.
Why Australian Camels Became Feral
With the advent of the motor vehicles and railroads these animals were no longer needed and by the 1930s most were set free. Discarded by their owners these animals had to fend for themselves in the wilderness. The non-native camel was ideally suited for the dry Australian deserts. It could handle the heat, had no predators and was also capable of eating almost all the vegetation found there. Its numbers rapidly increased.
Feral Camel Impacts on the Australian Environment
In 1966 it was estimated that there were 20,000 wild camels. By 2008 this number was estimated to be 500,000. Their numbers have increased so much that they are now considered a serious threat to native habitat. An extensive culling was undertaken between 2008 and 2013. The present population is now estimated at about 350,000 animals Feral camels impact the Australian environment by:
• Consuming vegetation up to heights of 4 meters and striping these plants of their leaves. Many native animals are unable to reach the remaining leaves of these plants.
• Moving in huge herds of up to 1000 animals, severely depleting and stressing local vegetation and depriving other native animals of their food sources.
• Exhausting and polluting waterholes and can cause native animals to die of thirst. (Each camel can consume 200 litres of water in less than 3 minutes).
• Damaging pastoral properties by destroying windmills, fences, etc. and eating vegetation meant for livestock.
• Sometimes causing serious traffic hazards on roads, rail lines and even airplane runways.
Camel Racing is Popular in Alice Springs
Wild camels are only found in Australia. Some have actually been exported back to Arabia (the Middle East).