|Northern Territory Government (c)|
Now, as the case with most invasive species, the usual charges of environmental degradation have much maligned Australia's feral camels- which include the only truly "wild" Dromedary camels left in the world as well as the endangered Bactrian camel. Camels destroy and foul water sources. They over browse the native vegetation at population densities greater than 2 per square kilometer. They don't respect aboriginal sites or the fences of cattle ranchers, often times destroying the latter outright. They eat 80% of the plant species available. This outcry over the depredations of feral camels resulted in a recent government sponsored culling of about 100,000. Subsequent droughts have since lowered the population from a high of about 1 million to about 750,000.
But if you look back at the history of the camel in Australia a similar dubious light is cast upon the creatures relationship to the peoples of Australia.
Camels were originally imported to Australia as beasts of burden to assist in the conquest of the arid interior. Horses, donkeys and bollocks were used initially but expeditions utilizing these animals often met disastrous results- not just for want of feed and water, but because they were reportedly "spooked" by the terrain of the Australian outback. The importation of camels, and their Afghan cameleers- dubbed "Ghans"- proved pivotal in the conquest of the outback resulting in such infrastructure projects as the Overland Telegraph and Trans Australian Railway.
The strange and little known history of Islamic cameleers in the Australian outback unceremoniously came to a close. Here is an account of one of the few remaining mosques from reCollections, the Journal of the National Museum of Australia.
In the Adelaide summer of 1952 a young Bosniam Muslim and his friends, newly arrived immigrants, pushed open the high gate of the Adelaide mosque...As Shefik Talanavic entered the mosque courtyard he was confronted by an extraordinary sight. Sitting and lying on benches, shaded from the strong sunshine by vines and fruit trees, were six or seven ancient, turbaned men. The youngest was 87 years old. Most were in their nineties; the oldest was 117 years old. These were the last of Australia's Muslim cameleers... Several had subscribed money during the late 1880's for the construction of the mosque which now, crumbling and decayed, provided their last refuge.
But far from fading into obscurity, Australia's camels have proved quite robust in their new home. Released into the wild when they proved obsolete, a founding population of a few thousand had grown to close to a million animals. The government began a cull of about 100,000 and then the droughts, substantially lowering the population. But a contingent of voices has arose in defense of the feral camels of Australia.
Unlike cattle, horses, sheep and other livestock which humans place in arid lands- camels are true desert specialists. Their broad, splaying feet do not cut into the shallow dirt causing erosion and damaging soil and root integrity.
Interestingly some innovative Aussies have already begun to run camels commercially for export, both for food and sport. Although a delicacy in several southeast Asian and Middle Eastern countries- the economic reality of harvesting, shipping, and marketing this meat from the remote interior has not yet taken off for whatever reasons. Not surprisingly Aussies themselves have not taken to feasting on their feral country mates. Don't expect to see camel on the menu at Outback Steakhouse any time soon.
And a new voice has entered the fracas of the camel issue, a voice from the past. Ecologically Australia has supported several large browsers in the recent Pleistocene, the giant wombat Diprotodon and the giant short faced kangaroo, Procoptodon. Camels, it is argued, fill the gap of the large browser that always existed here. Not only are camels OK for the outback- they
But what is missing here is control. Now a million camels seems like a lot, but spread over the whole arid interior it is really not that daunting of a population. Certainly if Aussies don't find a way to sustainably and economically manage the herds of camels either by exporting the beasts or serving them up as tucker we can expect that droughts and starvation will have the final say (the camel population is remarkably disease free being descended from imported healthy stock). Or we look towards other means of control. Both Diprotodon and Procoptodon had to contend with Megalania, which most likely behaved like a hyped up Komodo Dragon. Of course we can't bring back Megalania but some have suggested another option. Far from being a small island endemic, recent findings suggest that Komodo Dragons were in fact quite more widely distributed throughout southeast Asia and Australia than their present range suggests.
|Varanus komodiensis. (c) Bohemian traveller|
Is it time to repatriate the lizard king to help control the ferals of Australia? Something tells me the cattle ranchers might have an opinion on that....
Afghan Cameleers in Australia
Camels to Rescue in Ecosystem
Camels Rescue Australian Inland Ecosystem by Replacing Diprotodons ASAP
Camels or Cattle?
Ecological Effects of Feral Camels on the semi-arid regions of Australia
Tens of Thousands of Feral Camels Culled in Australian Outback
Support me on Patreon.
Like antediluvian salad on facebook.
My other blog southlandbeaver.blogspot.