Knowledgebase > Camels

Camels

Last updated 28 July 2020

The camels found in Australia are Dromedary camels. Being social creatures, camels live in groups known as herds, and are known to blow in one another’s faces as a greeting.

 

History of camels in Australia

Camels were first introduced to Australia in the 1840s to be used to aid exploration and development of arid areas1. However, the arrival of rail and motor transport in the 1930s saw many camels being abandoned due to their lack of usefulness2. By 2008 their populations were estimated to be around 800,000, leading the government to establish a culling project which effectively halved the population, primarily through shooting them from helicopters but also by rounding them up and trucking them to slaughterhouses for export. Today, there are estimated to be 1.2 million wild camels in Australia that are deemed to be feral.

Aside from slaughter, camels caught in the wild are also, less commonly, trained for tourist enterprises and dairy production.

 

Using camels for profit

Camels being transported in the Northern Territory.

The Central Australian Camel Industry Association Inc. (CACIA) has established markets for trade in camel meat, skin and live export3. The Australian camel industry is now considered to be an emerging industry, relying heavily upon the harvesting of wild (‘feral’) camels as well as (to a lesser degree) camels farmed for milk and tourism (Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry 2005)4.

 

Culling of wild camels

Camels being mustered. Source: Quest TV

Wild camels are typically mustered by helicopter, motorbike or on horseback, often with the assistance of ‘coacher camels’ who drive wild camels towards a set of yards where a ground team complete the muster5.  Once camels have been mustered they are most commonly sold to slaughterhouses for export, while some are sold for live export6. However, when there is no available transport or a lack of market, camels are shot in the yards7.

This handling of camels causes extreme stress given they are not used to confinement and close contact with humans8, leading to feeding disruption, mismothering, abortion of heavily pregnant females and social disruption9. The redistribution of wild camels off-property for either domestication, sale to slaughterhouses, or live export causes increased stress on camels10.


Camels being transported to slaughterhouses.

Camels are also commonly culled by means of aerial shooting. This involves tracking camels and shooting them from helicopters11. Shooters’ accuracy is severely impaired by shooting from a moving platform; this means that often camels are not killed instantly and suffer unnecessarily until they are shot a second time, or until they die from the wounds of the first shot.

 

Camel dairy


Camels lining up to be milked

An increasing number of camels caught in the wild are being diverted to camel dairies, an expanding industry that promotes itself as a healthier alternative to cows’ milk products and a less wasteful alternative to aerial culling. Many camel dairies promote themselves as a sanctuary for camels, saving them from slaughter in the wild. However, it is commonplace for camel dairies to send their bulls (males) to slaughter due to their lack of economic viability, given they cannot produce milk. In 2016 it was estimated that Australia produces roughly 50,000 litres of camel milk, and the industry’s gross value is estimated to be $800,000 per annum12.

 

Camels used for human entertainment

A camel being used for humans to ride

Camels are commonly used for human entertainment in Australia, mostly through being ridden. This use of camels presents concerns for their welfare regarding the breaking-in process, housing and ongoing treatment.