Explained: Why Australia is killing thousands of camels

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According to South Australia’s environment department, some camels have died of thirst or trampled each other as they rushed to find water. (PTI Photo/File)

Australia on Wednesday began a five-day cull of up to 10,000 camels, using sniper fire from helicopters. The exercise is taking place in Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (called APY Lands) in South Australia state, where the animals will be killed according to the “highest standards of animal welfare”, authorities said.

Camels in Australia, which number over 10 lakh today, were first brought to the continent in the late 19th century from India, when Australia’s massive interior region was first being discovered. Over 20,000 were imported from India between the 1840s and the 1900s.

Explained: Why is Australia killing the camels?

The year 2019 was the driest and hottest on record in Australia. A catastrophic bushfire season, that began months before usual, has left over 25 people dead, and has burned over 1.5 crore acres of land, killing an estimated 100 crore animals.

The acute drought has pushed massive herds of feral or wild camels towards remote towns looking for water, endangering indigenous communities. According to South Australia’s environment department, some camels have died of thirst or trampled each other as they rushed to find water.

The camels have been threatening scarce reserves of food and water, besides damaging infrastructure and creating a hazard for drivers, authorities have said. The herds have also contaminated important water sources and cultural sites.
The APY Lands, located in Australia’s southeast and home to about 2,300 Aboriginal Australians. In the past, the inhabitants used to gather the camels and sell them, but the recent drought spell has caused an unmanageable number of animals to turn up.

Aerial marksmen riding in two Robinson R44 four-seat light helicopters are culling the animals, according to The Australian. The animals are to be killed away from communities. Their carcasses will be burnt, unless they fall in remote and inaccessible locations, reports said.

Australia's camel woes

Australia is believed to have the largest population of wild camels in the world — over 10 lakh, which is rapidly growing. The herds roam in the country's inland deserts, and are considered a pest, as they foul water sources and trample native flora while foraging for food over vast distances each day.

Unless their breeding is controlled, the camel population doubles every nine years. The animals also have a massive carbon footprint, each camel emitting methane equivalent to one tonne of carbon ­dioxide a year. Some in the APY Lands are now demanding legislation that would allow them to legally cull the animals, which could help offset greenhouse emissions.

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