National Feral Camel Action Plan
There are currently over one million feral camels in the rangeland ecosystems of Australia. Feral camels are causing significant damage to the natural environment as well as to social, cultural and economic values across their extensive range. If left unmanaged, the number of feral camels will double in the next 8–10 years and feral
camels will expand into new areas. If this happens, the extent and magnitude of the damaging impacts of feral camels will increase.
Management of feral camels and their impacts across the rangelands (primarily consisting of Aboriginal, conservation, pastoral and crown lands) is a complex issue that has two significant challenges:
; the rapid reduction of the currently over-abundant feral camel population, and
; building a legacy that will sustain on-going protection of assets and values of
There is a substantial number of stakeholders in feral camel management, including governments, landowners and landholders, communities and individuals, and those with commercial interests in feral camels. In order to achieve a significant reduction of the negative impacts of the feral camel population, all these groups will have to work together. However, there are differing views on how feral camels should be managed to achieve this outcome.
The National Feral Camel Action Plan (the National Plan) has been developed to guide the management of feral camels now and into the future. It provides a strategic and risk-based approach upon which local, regional and state-based management of feral camels can be undertaken. The National Plan‟s vision is:
Comprehensive, coordinated and humane management of feral camels and
their impacts that maintains and promotes the biodiversity, agricultural
assets and social values of our rangelands for all Australians.
The four key outcomes identified for the National Plan are the:
; development of the Australian and international community‟s understanding
of and support for the humane management of feral camels and their impacts
; amelioration of the negative impacts of feral camels by addressing the current
over-abundance of feral camels through the immediate, substantial and
sustained reduction in their numbers and impacts across the rangelands
; adoption of a platform for the on-going humane management of feral camels,
; development of partnerships and social capacities for feral camel management
into the future.
The National Plan has been developed as a management plan for an Existing Pest Animal of National Significance (EPANS) under the Australian Pest Animal Strategy (APAS). A Feral Camel Working Group of the Vertebrate Pests Committee will oversee the implementation of the National Plan.
Table of Contents
Section Page 1 Vision 3 2 Challenges 3
2.1 Why a national plan? 4
2.2 What are the negative impacts of feral camels? 6
2.3 Primary stakeholders 8
2.4 Secondary stakeholders 11 3 Key outcomes 12 4 Process to be followed 12
4.1 Development of the draft National Plan 12
4.2 Public comment and endorsement 12
4.3 Implementation 12 5 Background 13
5.1 Camel ecology and biology 13
5.2 History of spread 15
5.3 Annotated bibliography of camel-related 16
research in Australia
5.4 Control methods 16
5.5 Socio-economic factors affecting management 17
6 National Action Plan 18
Summary matrix 21
The National Feral Camel Action Plan: goals, 22
actions and the strategy for implementation
Goal 1 – The Australian public and 22
international community understand the need
for and support the humane management of
feral camels and their impacts
Goal 2 – Mitigation of the negative impacts 32
being caused by the current overabundance of
Goal 3 – Adoption of a platform for ongoing 46
humane management of feral camels
Goal 4 – Partnerships and social capacity for 52
humane camel management are in place
Appendices 58 A1 Australian Pest Animal Strategy – Key 58
A2 Camel management stakeholders 59 A3 Feral camel control methods 61
67 Consulted References
Feral camels are wild camels that roam long distances across Australia‟s rangeland ecosystems. The National Feral Camel Action Plan (the National Plan) has been developed in response to the increasing number of feral camels, their increasing damage to the natural environment, community infrastructure, cultural sites and primary industries and the need for a nationally coordinated approach to dealing with these issues. The vision for the National Plan is:
Comprehensive, coordinated and humane management of feral camels
and their impacts that maintains and promotes the biodiversity,
agricultural assets and social values of our rangelands for all Australians.
Throughout this plan, the term “rangelands” refers to the arid ecosystems across central and western Australia. Such ecosystems are primarily a mix of Aboriginal, conservation, pastoral and crown lands.
The National Plan is not about farmed camels that are deliberately fenced in for productive or other purposes or that are under the control of a person or company.
Management of feral camels across the Australian rangelands is a complex issue. There are currently over one million feral camels and this population will double in the next 8-10 years and beyond. At this population level feral camels are having significant negative impacts across their extensive range and are expanding into new areas. These impacts are environmental, social, cultural and economic. The overarching challenges for the National Plan are to set a framework that will:
; enable rapid and humane reduction of the currently over-abundant feral camel
population to a level where it does not threaten the integrity of assets and
social values and where jurisdictions and landowners can readily undertake
on-going management to protect these assets and values, and
; ensure there is a legacy or platform in place that will sustain on-going
protection of these assets and values from feral camels.
These central challenges are complicated by the array of other challenges that the implementation of the National Plan faces.
The feral camel range extends across three states (Western Australia, South Australia, Queensland) and the Northern Territory. Each jurisdiction has legislative and regulatory frameworks for the management of all pest animals including feral camels, which landholders must abide by. However, the detailed requirements of these frameworks have not been harmonised across jurisdictional boundaries. To date there has been little cooperative, cross-jurisdictional feral camel management except on a small scale ad hoc basis. This limited cross-jurisdictional effort has had little impact on feral camel populations overall, and has been ineffective in mitigating their impacts across Australia‟s rangelands. The jurisdictions are facing a considerable
; harmonise legislative and regulatory requirements for feral camel control,
; develop appropriate protocols to both allow and encourage cross jurisdictional
feral camel management, and
; implement mechanisms to deal with the management of feral camels across
different land tenures (e.g. pastoral, government and Aboriginal) when the
approach required needs to access all tenures.
The values that are held by individuals and stakeholder groups about feral camels vary considerably. For some groups the negative impacts that feral camels have on environmental, social and cultural values are highly significant. Similarly, the economic costs associated with damage to infrastructure (such as fences) caused by feral camels and expenditure required to manage feral camels is a significant impost to land managers. Alternatively some communities and individuals see that feral camels are a potential economic resource that could be harnessed providing local employment and income. Further, the value of feral camels as a protein resource that could contribute towards a need in the world context is also valued by some individuals and groups. The challenges faced by the jurisdictions given this broad array of values include the:
; engagement of the different interest groups/stakeholders in the need for, and to
undertake, action to manage the negative impacts of feral camels
; development via partnerships of appropriate capacities amongst stakeholders
to manage feral camels and their impacts in a variety of settings and through a
variety of control mechanisms
; countering of inaccurate and misrepresentative domestic and international
information which condemns or interferes with the implementation of the
National Plan, and
; identification and implementation of processes to address regulatory barriers
to the development of commercial camel use, enterprises and/or industries.
A great deal of research has been undertaken on the ecology of feral camels and this has been synthesised by the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre (DKCRC) in recent years. This has provided a significant base of knowledge upon which sound management decisions can be based. Nevertheless, there are gaps in this knowledge in respect of impacts, potential control methods and in capacities to predict changes in population distribution and densities. However, waiting for research to address these knowledge gaps is not a justifiable reason to stop immediate action towards the humane management of feral camels and their impacts.
The National Plan has been developed using the 12 principles of the Australian Pest Animal Strategy (see Appendix A1) in order to bring together an agenda of short, medium and long-term actions and those responsible for undertaking them. The goals, objectives and actions listed are of an aspirational nature and the National Plan is dependent upon the jurisdictions and other stakeholders that are involved adopting and pursuing the actions for which they are responsible. The National Plan does not have a statutory basis.
2.1 Why a national plan?
The current management of feral camels is largely ad hoc and is fragmented by jurisdictional and tenure boundaries. Consequently, feral camel management to date has failed to provide a strategic and risk-based approach upon which local, regional and state-based management can be undertaken.
In order to develop a strategic and risk-based approach to feral camel management, an overarching emphasis has to be placed on humane management techniques and the mitigation of the impacts of feral camels at appropriate scales, rather than simply reducing feral camel numbers. However, as there is a positive
relationship between feral camel density and degree of damage, reducing feral camel numbers is an important strategy in achieving damage mitigation. Further, mitigation of the negative impacts of feral camels requires immediate effort by all - governments, industries, land managers and the various stakeholder communities.
This can only be achieved by providing a framework at a national level as:
; the current large population of feral camels occurs over a vast area
; feral camels are highly mobile and are able to move over large distances in
relatively short time periods
; feral camels occur in very remote areas that are sparsely populated by humans
and where ground access may be extremely limited or non-existent
; there are differing perceptions on feral camels and their impacts. Feral camels
are considered to be both a pest and a resource and on occasion an „icon‟.
The current distribution of the feral camel covers much of arid Australia – see Figure
1. Feral camels are present in up to 50 per cent of Australia‟s rangelands ecosystems, which includes most of the arid regions of Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and parts of Queensland. Table 1 shows each of the jurisdictions where feral camels are present and the percentage of the total feral camel range that is in each jurisdiction.
Figure 1. Australian rangelands showing estimated distribution of feral camels in 2008 and the location of the dog fence (from Report 47 “Managing the impacts of
feral camels in Australia: a new way of doing business”, Desert Knowledge CRC).
Table 1. The area occupied by feral camels in each jurisdictions across the feral camel range
Jurisdiction Area within feral camel Percentage feral camel
distribution (km?) range in jurisdiction
Western Australia 1,534,000 46
Northern Territory 875,000 26.3
South Australia 589,000 17.7
Queensland 331,000 10
Total 3,329,000 100
2.2 What are the negative impacts of feral camels?
Feral camels are found over a variety of land tenures. The key landholders/mangers across the feral camel range are conservation agencies (manage 10 per cent of land within the camel range), Aboriginal landholders (23.5 per cent) and pastoral landholders (24.5 per cent) (see Table 2). The remaining land on which camels occur is largely classed as unallocated crown land, much of which is subject to native land title claim. While the negative impacts of feral camels are generally the same across land tenures, perceptions vary about the loss of values of the rangelands, the importance of the different impacts and the subsequent costs to mitigate those impacts between tenures. However, across tenures, it is the increasing and unsustainable densities of feral camels that have created significant negative impacts, not the presence of feral camels per se.
Table 2. Major tenures across the feral camel range
Tenure classification Area within feral camel Percentage tenure in
distribution feral camel range
Aboriginal 783,000 23.5
Conservation/other 335,000 10
Pastoral 813,000 24.5
Vacant Crown Land * 1,399,000 42
Total 3,330,000 100
* Such lands may be subject to native title claims.
Figure 2 provides an indication of the variety of land tenures within the feral camel range. The number of different tenures and the mosaic spread of tenures makes the success of any significant feral camel control dependant on cross tenure and cross jurisdictional cooperation.
Figure 2 Indicative tenure in the feral camel range (from Report 47 “Managing the
impacts of feral camels in Australia: a new way of doing business”, Desert
The overarching negative impacts of feral camels as vertebrate pests are:
; Environmental – broad landscape damage including damage to vegetation
through foraging behaviour and trampling, suppression of recruitment of
some plant species, selective browsing on rare and threatened flora, damage
to wetlands through fouling trampling and sedimentation, competition with
native animals for food and shelter and loss of sequestered carbon in
; Economic – direct control and management costs, damage to infrastructure
(fences, yards, grazing lands, water sources), competition with cattle for food
and water, cattle escapes due to fencing damage, destruction of bush tucker
; Social – damage to culturally significant sites including religious sites, burial
sites, ceremonial grounds, water places (e.g. water holes, rockholes, soaks,
springs), places of birth, places (including trees) where spirits of dead people
are said to dwell and resource points (food, ochre, flints), destruction of bush
tucker resources, changes in patterns of exploitation and customary use of
country and loss of opportunities to teach younger generations, reduction of
people‟s enjoyment of natural areas, interference with native animals or
hunting of native animals, creation of dangerous driving conditions, cause of
general nuisance in residential areas, cause of safety concerns to do with feral
camels on airstrips, damage to outstations, damage to community
infrastructure, community costs associated with traffic accidents.
Further detail on the assessed negative impacts can be found in Report 47 “Managing
the impacts of feral camels in Australia: a new way of doing business”, Desert
In addition to the general impacts listed above, drought, which occurs regularly across much of the current feral camel range, forces feral camels on to a reducing number of
water (drought) refuges. This accelerates the loss of these refuges with many feral camels often bogging and dying in these waters. There are consequent serious implications both for the welfare of the feral camels and the other species which depend on the same scarce water resources as drought refuge.
2.3 Primary stakeholders
There are a wide variety of individuals, groups and institutions that would consider themselves to be stakeholders in the implementation of the National Plan. An initial listing, not necessarily exhaustive, of stakeholders is at Appendix A2. Those who
have regulatory responsibility for pest animals or land management are primary stakeholders in the implementation of the National Plan. So too are those who own or occupy land where feral camels occur as they are responsible for its stewardship and have statutory responsibility for humanely managing feral animals.
2.3.1 State and territory governments
State and territory governments are primary stakeholders in the humane management of feral camels as responsibility for the regulation of feral animals lies with them. They are responsible for the management of feral animals on lands under their direct management, and have a further responsibility to lead humane management of feral animal impacts for the benefit of the whole community. In many cases state and territory governments take on a role of facilitating the humane control of feral animals by private landholders (e.g. through education programs, extension services, by undertaking research and development).
2.3.2 Natural resource management regions
Most of the jurisdictions have formally declared natural resource management regions that have to varying degrees responsibilities for facilitating and undertaking natural resource management (primary industry and conservation management) across significant areas of the feral camel range. The key natural resource management regions are:
Table 3. Natural resource management regions across the feral camel range
State Natural resource Area within camel range
management board (per cent)
Western Australia Avon 3.4
South Coast 7.2
Northern Territory Natural Resource 66
Management Board NT
South Australia Alinytjara Wilurara 100
Southern Australian Arid 40
Lands Natural Resource
Queensland Desert Channels Natural 30
While the natural resource management boards have not been directly surveyed about their views on feral camels and their impacts, by virtue of their investments in the issue over the past four years, it is expected that their concerns would be similar to those of conservation managers and pastoralists (see below).
The Alinytjara Wilurara and Southern Australian Arid Lands Natural Resource Management Boards have conducted risk assessments that are incorporated into regional pest management strategies that highlight the threat from feral camels.
Desert Wildlife Services, for the Natural Resources Management Board (NT) Inc., Regional Investment Strategy have produced a guide for investment in camel management in the Northern Territory for the five year period 2009-2013.
2.3.3 Conservation managers
Conservation managers report that the majority of impacts of feral camels are on environmental and cultural values, the very values that reserves are endeavouring to protect. Negative impacts associated with feral camels include problems in the broad landscape context such as:
; damage to vegetation
; damage to water sources
; increased risks to biodiversity
; competition with native animals
; damage to cultural sites
; damage to infrastructure, and
; traffic hazards.
The annual monetary value of the negative impacts of feral camels on conservation lands within the feral camel range was recently estimated to be $0.18 million for damage to infrastructure damage and management actions. However, these costs are believed to be minor in comparison to those associated with damage to environmental assets which are difficult to evaluate in monetary terms.
2.3.4 Aboriginal landholders and land managers
Aboriginal people‟s concerns about feral camel impacts are multi-faceted and
encompass aesthetic, practical and physical dimensions, as well as religious issues. In areas of high feral camel density many Aboriginal people have indicated that feral camels negatively impact the broader landscape environment. However, feral camel impacts on natural and cultural resources are of greatest concern. Major concerns include the following:
; high feral camel densities near water sources making camping difficult and
using and contaminating drinking water supplies
; feral camels trampling, eating and/or otherwise destroying types of bush
tucker forcing changes to the patterns of customary use of country
; feral camels disturbing game species or getting in the way of hunters
; destruction and other impacts (e.g. loss of opportunity to teach younger
generations) on cultural and sacred sites including rockholes
; the risk feral camels pose to people‟s safety including road safety and safety at
; loss of amenity/enjoyment of the country
; competition with native animals for food and water, and
; feral camel damage to community and township infrastructure, including
fences and water supply.
Aboriginal attitudes to feral camels and their impacts are not homogenous. Many Aboriginal people value the opportunity they believe feral camels may provide for meaningful and productive economic activity. Potentially they could provide jobs in mustering and pet meat operations, along with income from the sale of camels, tourism enterprises such as camel farms and safaris, production of meat for human consumption and products such as camel wool. However, to date, few Aboriginal communities have developed enterprises using feral camels.
There are some ongoing, if small-scale, local suppliers of camel meat. Although the number of Aboriginal people eating camel meat is increasing, this is not consistent across communities.
Pastoralists are responsible for managing the total grazing pressures on the lands they own or are managing. Pastoralists in the rangelands have indicated the following negative impacts associated with feral camels:
; problems in the broader landscape context including environmental
impacts, such as damage to vegetation, damage to water sources, soil
trampling, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation, and
; negative impacts on pastoral properties such as damage to fences, damage
to water sources, damage to grazing lands, competition with cattle for food
and water, disturbance or injury of livestock and cattle escaping.
The monetary value of this damage and management to mitigate it has recently been estimated to be $7.15 million annually across all pastoral properties within the margins of the feral camel range.
However, some pastoralists report that they benefit from feral camels including:
; deriving income from selling camels
; consumption of feral camel meat, and
; other economic benefits (e.g. some pastoralists in Queensland are using feral
camels for woody weed control).
The monetary value of the benefit that pastoralists realised from feral camels has been recently estimated to be about $0.58 million annually across all pastoral properties within or on the margins of the feral camel range.
It should be noted that the monetary values shown in the previous sections have been developed by the DKCRC. While there may be areas of contention in regard to the specific figures, the ratios of cost to benefit are appropriate to justify investment in control and the net benefit of undertaking humane feral camel management over 20 years would be extremely high. The „do nothing‟ option is likely to increase the costs of impacts across all tenures exponentially.
2.3.6 Other rangelands communities
Other outback townships, such as those servicing transport, mining and tourism industries, and road and rail infrastructure are also affected by feral camels. In particular they suffer from impacts that affect public safety and infrastructure. These impacts have been substantially described in the Desert Knowledge CRC‟s Report 47.