Australia is famous for its wildlife - kangaroos, koalas and numerous species of snakes and spiders - but it is also home to the world's largest herd of camels.
It is now estimated that there are over a million camels roaming wild in the outback and they cause a host of problems.
Australia is the only country with feral herds of camels, the largest population in the world. It has the only herd of dromedary (one-humped) camels exhibiting wild behaviour in the world.
Imported into Australia from British India and Afghanistan during the 19th century for transport and construction during the colonisation of the central and western parts of Australia, many were released into the wild after motorised transport replaced the use of camels in the early 20th century, resulting in a fast-growing feral population.
In 1840 "Harry", the first camel arrived in Australia. He was the only survivor of a small group of camels imported from the Canary Islands. Harry's life in Australia didn't last too long. During an expedition to the northern parts of the Flinders Ranges Harry accidentally bumped his owner just in the moment as he was loading a gun. The owner died a month later, and Harry was executed afterwards.
Despite Harry's bad luck, introduced camels made their way into the Australian Outback.
In the 1920s motor vehicles kicked the camels in Australia out of their jobs. Some animals were killed, but most were just abandoned and went on to survive in Australia's vast unsettled inland. By 2008, it was feared that Central Australia's feral camel population had grown to about one million and was projected to double every 8 to 10 years.
Camels proved to be the perfect outback solution. So what made camels thrive and become so useful in Australia?
- Camels can go without water for long times.
- Of the estimated 350 or so plant species that grow in the Australian Outback deserts, camels eat 325!
- Camels don't need roads. Their huge feet allow them to easily walk over soft sand that would bog anything with wheels.
- Camels don't need shoeing like horses do. They do need constant work to be happy. (Horses need a spell when they've been working under extreme conditions for too long.)
- Also, a camel is old enough for light pack work at only three years of age, and can go on to work at least until it's forty. That's a long working life.
- The loads that camels can carry are impressive, too. A grown bull camel will carry up to 600 kg!
The problem is that Camels cause serious degradation of local environmental and cultural sites particularly during Australia's all too frequent droughts, when camels "run over" small towns and Aboriginal communities in search for water. These conflicts only increase as their numbers grow.
I guess the only upside is that Camel trekking has become popular for tourists. Camel farms can be found throughout the Outback. They offer camel rides for an hour, and expeditions of a couple of days, or even weeks.
- Camels are social animals who roam the deserts in search of food and water with up to 30 other individuals.
- With the exception of rutting males competing for females, camels are very peaceful animals who rarely exhibit aggression.
- Contrary to popular misconception, camels do not store water in their humps. The humps are actually reservoirs for fatty tissue. Concentrating fat in their humps minimises insulation throughout the rest of the body, thus allowing camels to survive in such extreme hot regions.
- Asian camels have two humps whereas Arabian camels only have one.
- Camels have two rows of thick eyelashes to protect their eyes from the desert dust. They are also able to close their nostrils and lips to keep out the dust.
- Camels’ ears are small and hairy. However their sense of hearing is also extremely strong.
- The amount of water a camel drinks on a day-to-day basis can vary greatly, as they drink to replace only the fluid they’ve lost. A thirsty camel can drink up to 135 liters in one sitting!
- In Arab cultures the camel symbolises patience, tolerance and endurance.
- Camels have played such an important role in Arabian culture that there are over 160 words for ‘camel’ in the Arabic language.