Monday, March 26, 2012

Can Saudi Arabia Rescue Australia's Feral Camels?

I'm  on page 221 of Tim Winton's Dirt Music.  I have about 180 pages to read before tomorrow night's book club meeting.  So I can't write too much now.  This 2001 novel has been growing on me, but let me focus on just one tiny tangent. 

Georgie is having a recurring dream about Mrs. Jubail.  Just brief mentions until we finally get more explanation.  Much of the book comes to us this way - sort of like life comes to us - in brief snatches that don't make much sense at first until it moves from our subconcious to our conscious minds.  We'd also heard that Georgie had worked in Saudi Arabia.  And on page 141 things come together as we learn that in Saudi Arabia she was a nurse and took care of Mrs. Jubail who had a terminal illness.  At one point,
"She asked was it true the Arabs imported camels from [Australia].  Georgie told her of the wild herds in the north that were the legacy of the Afghan traders." 
I took this picture in India, not Australia
Is it true, I wondered.  Well, it sounds basically true, but the Afghans seem to have been camel handlers. 

Southaustraliahistory  tells us:

Without the Afghans much of the development of the outback would have been very difficult if not impossible. Whole communities, towns, mining establishments, pastoral properties and some well known explorations in the interior have been made successful because of their contributions.
With their camels, who received more publicity than their owners, these cameleers opened up the outback, helped with the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line and Railways, erected fences, acted as guides for several major expeditions, and supplied almost every inland mine or station with its goods and services. These 'pilots of the desert' made a vital contribution to Australia.

The Afghans came first in 1838 and the first camels in 1840 as we learn from camelaustralia:
The first camel in Australia was imported from the Canary Islands in 1840 by Horrock. The next major group of 24 camels came out in 1860 for the ill-fated Bourke and Wills expedition. The first time the explorer Giles used camels he travelled 220 miles in 8 days without giving water to the camels. He later went from Bunbury Downs to Queen Victoria Springs (WA), a distance of 325 miles in 17 days and gave one bucket of water to each camel after the twelfth day. . .

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 camels, imported into Australia between 1860 and 1907, were used as draft and riding animals by people pioneering the dry interior.
Now it's estimated Australia has about 1 million feral camels and in 2010 the country proposed to spend about $19 million (US$19.80 = Aus $19) to cull the wild camels.  But Saudis have come to the rescue:
The Saudi campaign, which calls on the country's rich to airlift the camels to the safety of the Saudi desert, comes after the Australian government announced it would kill 6,000 camels in the Northern Territory next week using marksmen firing from helicopters. [The fact sheet quoted below puts the number at 650,000.]
The animals are viewed as a pest in Australia, but they are revered in the desert nation of Saudi Arabia.
 It's not clear what happened. There were several references to this in January 2010, I couldn't find any later news whether anything happened.  But over a year later, we learn that an Australian entrepreneur is taking on the government's culling plan and wants to turn the camels into a lucrative business.  Arabian Business reports March 30, 2011:
A Queensland businessman plans to take on the Australian government in a bid to redirect a multimillion-dollar camel cull into a plan to exporting camel produce to the Gulf.
Outback entrepreneur Paddy McHugh hopes to persuade Australia to capitalise on its wild camel population to create a lucrative business, selling milk and camels into the Gulf region.
“We want to turn it around from a negative and produce an industry for Australia to export meat and milk to the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. It’s got huge potential,” he told Arabian Business. . .

The feral animals are often labelled a nuisance, competing with cattle and sheep for food and crushing vegetation. In the Middle East, however, the desert animals are an integral part of life, used for food, drink and racing.
“The potential is huge and I just find it absurd that we want to shoot these animals,” McHugh said. “It’s a waste of phenomenal proportions. We believe there is an industry there that will compliment the Australian cattle and sheep industry and make another great export industry.”
Interest in camel produce is growing due to its reported health benefits. Advocates claim the milk contains up to five times more vitamin C than cow milk, less fat and less lactose while its meat is said to be low in cholesterol and high in protein.
The impact of camels on the environment, particularly during droughts, is apparently significant according to the Australian Department of Sustainability, Envornment, Water, Population and Community  fact sheet (updated March 2012):
In central Australia, serious and widespread negative impacts on vegetation have been recorded where camels occur at densities of more than two animals/km2, though damage to highly palatable species occurs at much lower densities. In more arid country near Lake Eyre, significant negative impacts on vegetation have been recorded where camels occur at densities of more than one animals/km2. Camels already occur at localised densities more than two animals/km2 over much of their current range.
The impact of feral camels on native plants and drinkable water is most pronounced during drought, when areas close to remote waterholes become refuges that are critical to the survival of a range of native animals and plants. Feral camels can quickly degrade these areas during a drought to the point where they may no longer provide any refuge for native plants and animals, perhaps leading to the local extinction of these species. The Action Plan for Australian Marsupials and Monotremes recommends that feral camel numbers be reduced at specific areas to help protect the habitat of threatened animals such as the ampurta (Dasycercus hillieri).
Many water places are sacred sites to Aboriginal people, so the negative impacts of camels on waterholes, rockholes, soaks and springs can be culturally significant. Recent periods of drought have resulted in feral camels entering remote communities in search of water, and extensively damaging water infrastructure such as laundries, bathrooms, bores, taps and tanks.
There are tidbits like this throughout the book.  Just passing comments where I say, "I need to look this up."  I'm sure I'll write more on this book. 

1 comment:

  1. The most common animal you will see in Saudi Arabia is camels because they can survive in the desert. They can live for days without water and they also act like horses in this country.


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