More than 5,000 camels have been shot and killed in South Australia's parched north-west in a contentious feral slaughter that has garnered widespread worldwide attention. The mass killing began on 8 December 2013 when police and animal welfare officers stormed the remote area to end the suffering of the animals.
The number of camels killed is estimated to be more than 5,000 after officials started counting carcasses from several sources. Counts were also done on the ground by animal welfare groups that arrived at the scene before police to provide food and water to the dying creatures.
Police said they would not arrest anyone for shooting the camels because there is no law against it in South Australia. However, charges may be laid under other laws including illegal possession of firearms and animal cruelty.
"There are some very sad and disturbing aspects to this incident but it's also important to remember that these animals were suffering greatly," South Australian Police Inspector Mark Hall said during a press conference on 9 December 2013. "They had been left to die alone without food or water in extremely cold conditions."
Inspector Hall added that there was no way for the animals to escape their fate once farmers stopped breeding them to produce milk for camel milk soap.
Feral camels have been proclaimed pests under the terms of the Biosecurity Agriculture and Management Act 2007 due to the extensive damage they do to pastoral infrastructure in Western Australia. Camel numbers may currently outweigh red kangaroos in the Australian desert by a factor of 100. The feral population has increased dramatically over the past few decades, likely due to poor management by farmers who are unable to control them.
In addition to damaging crops and grazing land, camels can also carry diseases such as anthrax and plague. They can also be a threat to livestock because they will feed on any plant that is not necessarily nutritious for humans. For example, camels will eat salt blocks used by farmers to water their livestock reducing the amount of water available to them.
There are three main methods used by farmers to control feral camels: shooting, trapping and poisoning. Shooting is the most effective method but is often not done because it is illegal to kill wild animals in Australia. Trapping and poisoning are two alternatives that can be used instead. Farmers may choose to trap or poison camels because shooting is not allowed.
Camels are found across Australia. They are most common in Western Australia where they account for almost all livestock killed by predators each year. In this region, feral camels cause about A$10 million (US$7.5 million) worth of damage every year.
A herd of wild camels passes over dry plains in Australia's Outback. Invasive plants and wild animals are ruining enormous areas and endangering the Outback's natural and cultural heritage. Camel savages are one of the most destructive creatures in the Outback. They will eat almost anything growing in rich soil, which is most of it. The leaves and branches of trees are used as fuel for cooking and for keeping warm during winter nights.
In addition to using their meat as food, Australians also use their skins for making bags and ropes. A hide from a camel can be very large -- enough for several jackets or even beds.
Camels were first introduced into Australia in 1872. Because they're such efficient grazers, many farmers believed they would do well on land that wasn't suitable for livestock grazing. However, camels need water daily for drinking and washing themselves. This means they need open grasslands with reliable water sources. They may survive in rural areas with less-than-optimal conditions, but will not thrive there.
Today, camels live mostly in northern Australia near towns and cities. They can be found in the streets and backyards of Adelaide, Sydney, and Melbourne. Although they are able to handle heat waves, drought, and predators, these factors contribute to their extinction in other parts of the world where they have been established.