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Land Rights News Central Australia: Land Rights News (September 2010)

Published: September, 2010

Camels - the numbers

Currently there are 1.1 million. An estimated 360,000 are in the Northern Territory and most of them are on Aboriginal land trusts.

Feral camels are increasing their numbers by about 100,000 a year with harvesting for export or abattoirs taking out only 10,000 a year at best, meaning a control program must include culling if numbers are to be reduced.

The Central Land Council has committed to working with governments and communities to help prevent the population increasing and to reduce the number of unmanaged camels on country over the next three years and beyond. The CLC’s goal is to return to the kind of numbers seen on country 20 years ago.

The CLC’s project officer Jude Prichard said many problems have been created by the explosion in camel numbers.

“Camel pads (tracks) in high density areas have led to soil erosion” she said. “This results in washouts that affect roads on country and access to outstations.

“In times of drought many sacred sites have become grave yards as camels perish because the conditions are dry. A mob of camels can drink a waterhole dry – outcompeting native animals - and in an arid environment like Central Australia where waterholes are limited, this can have a great effect on the likes of emus and kangaroos.

“Camels contaminate water sites with urine and kuna (faeces), which can make it unsafe for drinking, swimming or playing.

“They also damage water sites as their feet push in dirt and sand. The water sites then fill with mud. Many camels also die in and around water sites.

“Bull camels in particular have scared women and children when they are out on country with ladies saying that banging cans or buckets doesn’t scare the animals away,” Ms Prichard said.

A fear of camels has also led to a change in burning practises in some places, as residents use repeated burning in favourite hunting grounds to scare camels away with fire. High camel numbers have led to the local extinction of plants on land trusts.

Species favoured by camels such as the quandong have been obliterated in most areas. Such damage is resulting in the potentially irreversible degradation of sites of cultural and ecological significance on Central Australian Aboriginal lands and impacting on the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal land owners.

The CLC is a partner in the Federal Government’s Caring for our Country initiative aimed at decreasing the impacts of feral camels by reducing their numbers significantly over the next three years.

“The CLC recognises that the success of the program in the NT depends on Aboriginal land managers developing their capacity to manage feral camels as both a pest and a resource,” Ms Prichard said.

“As a result the CLC is committed to the window of opportunity the Caring for our Country program presents and is developing regional and site specific strategies and responses, and the skills, capacity and contracts necessary to utilise harvesting and culling methods to reduce camel numbers.

“It’s the CLC’s responsibility to check that any proposals that are presented to it are viable, meet land management objectives, are within capacity and consented to by traditional owners of the land trusts affected. However, despite three harvest agreements being created, none of them, as yet, have resulted in a harvest being undertaken from Central Australian Aboriginal lands.

”Over the next three years, if successful, planned camel reductions will see the current Australian feral camel population of 1.1 million reduced significantly and the protection of important environmental and cultural assets under the Caring for our Country program."

The Land Council’s main objective is to develop models of management that then support an annual national population reduction of 50,000 to 70,000 camels a year, preventing further population increases.