SYDNEY – Thousands of camels in Australia's remote Outback could be killed by marksmen in helicopters under a government proposal aimed at cutting down the population of the havoc-wreaking creatures.
First introduced into Australia in the 1840s to help explorers travel through the Australian desert, there are now about 1 million camels roaming the country. They compete with sheep and cattle for food, trample vegetation and invade remote settlements in search of water, scaring residents as they tear apart bathrooms and rip up water pipes.
Last month, the federal government set aside $16 million for a program to help slash the population. Besides sending in sharpshooters in helicopters and on foot, officials are considering proposals to turn some of the creatures into tasty treats such as camel burgers.
Glenn Edwards, who is working on drafting the government's camel reduction program, said the camel population needs to be slashed by two-thirds to reduce catastrophic damage.
But some remain opposed to a mass slaughter. Camel exporter Paddy McHugh, who runs camel catching operations throughout Australia, said a cull would be ineffective.
"What happens in 15 years when the numbers come back again? Do we waste another $20 million?" McHugh said.
The camels McHugh's associates capture are sold overseas, used in tourism and processed for their meat. In recent years, McHugh said he has seen an explosion in international demand for the animals. The most logical solution, McHugh said, is to kill only those creatures that can be sold abroad or used in products.
But Tony Peacock, CEO of the University of Canberra's Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Center, said that's simply unrealistic. It's too expensive, the dead camels would rot on their long journeys back to the processing plant, and those captured alive would become distressed during such lengthy trips.
"To be shot from a helicopter is actually quite humane, even though that sounds brutal," he said. "If I was a camel, I'd prefer to just get it in the head."