An Indigenous land management group funded by mining giant BHP has committed $2 million towards feral camel control in Central Australia over the next four years.
The tri-state culling program forms part of the 10 Deserts Project, an Indigenous land management partnership backed by the United States-based BHP Billiton Foundation.
General manager of the project, Peter See, said the money would support Government-run aerial shoots on Indigenous land, where assistance had been requested by traditional owners.
“Currently we’re in discussions with a number of communities, we’re also in discussions with relevant state and territory government agencies for them to undertake control work on our behalf — where there is consent in place,” he said.
“We would hope to commence in the coming months, and then continue annually over the next four years.
“The priority focus at the moment is in some areas of the Northern Territory, as well as Western Australia and also northern South Australia.”
Camel management has ‘lost momentum’
The funding commitment follows calls for an ‘urgent cull’ of camels by farmers in the WA Goldfields region, who claim the pest has reached ‘plague’ proportions.
While total camel numbers remain a debated subject, a final report into the $19-million Australian Feral Camel Management Project (AFCMP) in 2013 concluded the total camel population was around 300,000.
The report also estimated the cost of maintaining the 2013 camel population levels would be around $4 million a year.
Mr See said while the earlier project had been successful in removing more than 160,000 camels from central Australia, control efforts had since subsided.
“We’ve lost a lot of momentum since the national project. Luckily there are still various networks and contacts in place that will enable us to build on it,” he said.
“The reality is that feral animal management generally across Australia needs long-term commitment, and regular funding, so there has been a loss of momentum since 2013/14 when the project wrapped up.
The national project aimed to reduce camel density to around one camel per 10 square kilometres across 18 key biodiversity sites — a goal it largely achieved.
Mr See said while his organisation would seek to build on the earlier work, it would not be using the same project methodology.
“In terms of deciding priority areas, that would largely be left to Indigenous people to decide where they wish to do work,” he said.
“But in terms of this project, it really builds on the important, ground-breaking work … that the national project did.”
The project will also target feral horses where requested by traditional owners.
Debate continues over camel numbers
When the AFCMP began in 2009, the national camel population was estimated to be around 1 million, a figure which was later substantially revised down.
Mr See said he believes the numbers could have grown to almost 500,000 camels over the past five years, but those working in the camel meat industry are sceptical of the estimate.
Gary Marriott is the managing director of Samex, a SA meat processor which supplies camel meat into the US and Middle East markets.
He said it was becoming increasingly hard to find camels for the company’s meatworks.
“We haven’t been consulted about that [the 10 Deserts Project], but I would be surprised if there is any culling needing to be done in SA,” Mr Marriott said.
“Originally, when they did the big cull about five or six years ago, they were talking 1 million head of camels and then they found out the figures were 300,000.
“Sometimes when people say ‘there’s all these camels running around the place’, I think they don’t know exactly the correct numbers of them.”