More than 5,000 camels have been shot and killed across the arid north-west of South Australia, in a controversial feral cull that has drawn plenty of international attention.
• The APY Lands general manager says the cull was a success, despite it “not making a dent in the population at all”
• Camels have caused problems by damaging air conditioners and infrastructure in communities experiencing 50-degree heat
• Some international media has criticised the cull, while the camel meat industry says the cull was a waste
It came after a reported spike in the number of camels making their way into remote communities in the drought-stricken Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, causing damage to air conditioners and infrastructure in their search for water.
The APY executive board approved professional shooters to take out thousands of camels from helicopters across the region.
The five-day cull was hailed as a success by APY general manager Richard King, despite opposition from some people living on the lands, animal rights activists across the globe, and the fledgling camel meat industry.
“The fact that we were able to bring our stakeholders together in one place, with one mission, and also get approvals from Anangu to proceed with the cull makes it a success,” he said.
“There were long, hot days but we managed to get the numbers that we were hoping they would get, which is great.”
Mr King said government sources estimated there were about 600,000 camels in the region, and he conceded the cull was not going to have a huge impact on the population.
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t leave a dent at all,” he said.
“Killing 5,000 of them is not much really — compared to the grand scheme of things [it’s] less than 1 per cent.”
Mr King hoped the cull would instead ease the pressure on communities while temperatures soared over the summer months.
Feral camels will roam far and wide searching for water in dry times. (Supplied: Ninti One)
APY criticised for not consulting with communities
The cull was met with opposition by some in the APY Lands.
Amata community criticised the APY executive board for a lack of consultation, and ultimately decided not to let the cull go ahead on their traditional lands.
Several people muster, trap and sell camels in the region, and they thought their business would be negatively impacted by the cull.
“It is Aboriginal business, the only business we’ve got is the camel business,” Amata traditional owner and former APY chairman Frank Young told The Australian.
Another prominent community member in Fregon also spoke strongly against the cull.
But Mr King said it was only a small number of people opposed to the measures, with most wanting fewer camels in their communities.
“There were three people in Amata who disagreed [with the cull], and those people all have an interest in catching camels and selling them,” he said.
“In the end, whenever you get one or more people saying no, you listen to them.”
Mr King warned that those people would be “held to account” for damage caused in the community in the future.
“If camels are devastating an area, those people will be contacted to get out there and sort them out,” he said.
International media take interest in the cull
Officials plan to kill 10,000 camels in #Australia, claiming they drink too much water amid wildfires. SHAMEFUL.
Solution To Bushfires? Australia To Kill 10,000 Camels Because ‘They Drink Too Much Water’
Australia is engulfed in bushfires and it is running out of water to be able to control it. The solution the authorities there have come up with? To kill thousands of feral camels in South Australia…
The cull also garnered attention far beyond the APY lands, with national and international commentators criticising it on animal rights grounds.
Many were shocked to see so many camels being killed while more than a billion animals had perished throughout Australia’s disastrous bushfire season.
In Turkey, a member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) criticised the cull of thousands of camels as “not a humane approach”.
Some international media outlets mistakenly connected the cull to the bushfires, believing it occurred because camels were drinking water that could otherwise be used to fight fires.
Mr King said camels caused a great deal of damage on the APY Lands and their numbers needed to be contained.
He said there was a big disconnect between people who were criticising APY’s feral animal management approach and those who were dealing with camels in remote communities.
“When we’re sitting in the air conditioning in our homes … people have to realise that in the real world people are living with this real situation,” he said.
“I challenge any of those people to sit out there in the community in 50-degree heat, not being able to put their air conditioner on for a day … let’s see what their attitudes are then.”
Some believe camel meat could be a significant industry for the APY Lands. (ABC News: Margaret Burin)
APY Lands stance at odds with camel meat industry
Others believe culling camels does damage to a potentially lucrative camel meat industry, one of the few businesses that engages remote communities in the APY Lands.
Windy Hill Export Meats manager Ivan Coulter has bought camels from the region and sold the meat to foreign markets.
He believed it was a “ridiculous situation” that so much camel meat was being wasted, and said communities should be making the most of the increasing number of camels on their land.
“For an animal that’s not costing anything to the APY Lands … they’re earning funds from an animal they’re not actually putting any money into, except for holding yards,” he said.
Mr Coulter said the camel meat industry was restricted by a lack of multi-species abattoirs in Australia, but there was huge demand for the product.
“If we were to supply all the camel markets throughout the world — including the Middle East, USA, Canada, Sweden, West Africa — there wouldn’t be one live camel left after one year,” he said.
But Mr King said there was no future for a camel meat industry in the APY Lands, given the ongoing damage camels caused to infrastructure and the broader landscape.
He called the camel meat industry a “false economy”, with freight costs making it too costly to make it a profitable venture.
“The economic returns are just not there — it’s not a viable industry at all,” he said.
“It costs us more to have camels in the APY than it would if we actually got rid of them. In fact, we’d be making money if we got rid of them.”
Mr King said the long-term aim was for more cattle to be run on the APY Lands, and he warned that APY would be “coming down” on anyone farming camels in the region.