Feral camel cull in SA needs more thought

Feral camel cull in SA needs more thought

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The culling of thousands of feral camels in SA's north, has been criticised by an interstate camel expert who believes it is a wasted opportunity to build a valuable niche industry.

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The culling of thousands of feral camels in SA's north, has been criticised by an interstate camel expert who believes it is a wasted opportunity to build a valuable niche industry.

The aerial cull, which began on January 8, will see up to 10,000 camels killed in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands in the remote north-west of the state.

But Qld camel expert Paddy McHugh says such culls are an expensive way of managing the booming camel populations in inland Australia, and is adamant that taking a proactive approach would be better in the long run.

"In simple terms, it's beyond stupidity," he said.

"We're the laughing stock of the Middle East for what we're doing, they really value camels and we're just shooting them.

"Yes, Australia does have a real camel problem, but this doesn't fix it, they just breed up again and then they do another cull and waste more money."

When nothing has been done to develop an industry, then you have to react like this, but if there is a longer term plan, they can look at how they can manage this and take a whole different approach to it - REG SMYTH

According to SA's Department of Environment and Water, the APY executive requested assistance from Ten Deserts and the Alinytjara Wilurara Natural Resources Management Board to support the latest culls.

"For many years, traditional owners in the west of the APY Lands have mustered feral camels for sale, but this has been unable to manage the scale and number of camels that congregate in dry conditions," a department spokesperson said.

"An estimated 10,000 camels are flocking to available water sources, including tanks, taps and any available water in communities.

"This has resulted in significant damage to infrastructure, danger to families and communities, increased grazing pressure across the APY Lands and critical animal welfare issues as some camels die of thirst or trample each other to access water.

"In some cases dead animals have contaminated important water sources and cultural sites."

Mr McHugh has worked with camels for more than 40 years and as part of his career exports live camels to the Middle East for camel beauty contests and racing.

He said building a profitable camel meat industry would be a more sustainable way of controlling the camel population in the long-term than conducting culls.

"It's pouring money down the drain," he said.

"We've got to be proactive, not reactive. If there's a real future for camel exports in Australia, it's in the meat.

"We're in an arid land, why aren't we farming an arid animal?"

Mr McHugh suggested that two new camel micro-abattoirs be built at Kalgoorlie, WA, and Alice Springs, NT, to help grow Australia's camel meat industry further.

"The tyranny of distance is a big thing, so you have to build these systems close to where the camel populations are," he said.

"It'll take more than a few years to build the industry up, but we need to start."

"Some people say there's no market there but, it's as they say, if you build it, they will come."

Pirie Meats chief executive officer Reg Smyth believes the situation must be dire for a camel cull to be put in place.

"When nothing has been done to develop an industry, then you have to react like this, but if there is a longer term plan, they can look at how they can manage this and take a whole different approach to it" Mr Smyth said.

Pirie Meats' multi-species abattoir is due to open at Warnertown this year, and has been designed to allow for camel processing.

Related Reading: Pirie Meats unveils plan for $60m multi-species abattoir

Mr Smyth thinks camels could present an "amazing opportunity" in the future given they are suited to arid lands and remote areas.

But rather than relying on "ad hoc mustering", he believes a "far more structured approach", possibly farming camels - is the best way forward.

He also said mustering camels would yield an inconsistent product, with the market preferring younger animals.

Mr Smyth said the issue with micro-abattoirs was how they were accredited for export.

"You're better off bringing (camels) down to larger facilities such as Pirie Meats in the future," he said.

Camel meat is highly valued in the Middle East and northern Africa, and within Australia could find an increasing customer base through halal butcher shops.

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