Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How Australia got the hump with 1 million feral camels


A new study by a University of Exeter researcher has shed light on how an estimated one million-strong population of wild camels thriving in Australia's remote outback have become reviled as pests and culled on a large scale.

Sarah Crowley, of the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter's Penryn Campus, explored the history of the camel in Australia, from their historic role helping to create the country's infrastructure through to their current status as unwelcome "invader."

Camels played a significant role in the establishment of Australia's modern infrastructure, but rapidly lost their economic value in the early part of the 20th century and were either shot or released into the outback

Credit: James Northfield Heritage Art Trust ©

The deserts of the Australian outback are a notoriously inhospitable environment where few species can survive. But the dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius) prospers where others perish, eating 80% of native plant species and obtaining much of their water through ingesting this vegetation.

Yet for numerous Australians, particularly ranchers, conservation managers, and increasingly local and national governments, camels are perceived as pests and extreme measures – including shooting them with rifles from helicopters – are being taken to reduce their population.

In her article, published in the journal Anthrozoös, Crowley proposes that today's Australian camels exemplify the idea of "animals out of place" and discusses how they have come to inhabit this precarious position.

She said: "Reports estimate there are upwards of a million free-ranging camels in Australia and predict that this number could double every eight years. As their population burgeons, camels encroach more frequently upon human settlements and agricultural lands, raising their media profile and increasing local animosity toward them."

The camel was first brought to Australia in the 1800s when the country was in the midst of a flurry of colonial activity. The animals were recognized by pioneers as the most appropriate mode of transport for the challenging environment because they require significantly less water, feed on a wider variety of vegetation, and are capable of carrying heavier loads than horses and donkeys.

Camels therefore played a significant role in the establishment of Australia's modern infrastructure, including the laying of the Darwin–Adelaide Overland Telegraph Line and the construction of the Transnational Railway.

Once this infrastructure was in place, however, and motorized transport became increasingly widespread, camels were no longer indispensable. In the early part of the 20th century they rapidly lost their economic value and their displaced handlers either shot their wards or released them into the outback where, quite discreetly, they thrived.

It was not until the 1980s that surveys hinted at the true extent of their numbers, and only in 2001 that reports of damage caused by camels were brought to the general populace.

Camels are not the most dainty of creatures. Dromedaries are on average six feet tall at the shoulder, rendering cattle fencing no particular obstacle to their movement. By some accounts, camels may not even see small fences and consequently walk straight through them.

Groups of camels arriving on agricultural properties and settlements in Australia, normally in times of severe drought, can also cause significant damage in their search for water.

In 2009, a large-scale culling operation began. There were objections from animal welfare groups and some landowners who were concerned that the method of culling from helicopters, leaving the bodies to waste, is inhumane. Most objectors, however, were primarily concerned that culling is economically wasteful and felt that the camels should be mustered for slaughter or export.

There are also concerns regarding the global environment, as camels may contribute to the desertification of the Australian landscape. They are also ruminants and thus produce methane, adding to Australia's carbon emissions. Crowley does not question the accuracy or significance of this, but points out that the environmental impacts of even 1,000,000 feral camels pales in comparison to that of the 28,500,000 cattle currently residing in the country. Still, when dust storms gathered over Sydney in 2009, media reports implied that the camel was the culprit.

Camels have in recent times been referred to in Australia as "humped pests," "a plague," a "real danger" and "menacing," and their actions described as "ravaging" and "marauding."

Crowley added: "These terms show how camels have suddenly been attributed agency – their crossing of acceptable human boundaries is somehow deemed purposeful and rebellious. These accusations lie in stark contrast to the praise laid upon those dromedaries who assisted colonists in the exploration and establishment of modern Australia, and highlight how temporal changes in culture—specifically, shifting economic and environmental values—have affected human interpretations of the presence, purpose, and even behavior of Australian camels."


'Camels out of place and time: the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) in Australia' by Crowley, S. L. (2014) is published in the journal Anthrozoö. Available here:

Eleanor Gaskarth | Eurek Alert!
Further information:

Further reports about: Australia Railway Sustainability animals construction environment movement species

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s
26.11.2015 | Leibniz-Institut für Gewässerökologie und Binnenfischerei (IGB)

nachricht Network analysis shows systemic risk in mineral markets
16.11.2015 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>