Big demand for camels as drought harms beef industry

Sir – As one of the founding members of the Central Australian Camel Industry Association in the late 1980s and more recently the former chairperson of the Australian Camel Industry Association Inc I, like many others in Australia and overseas are appalled at the waste of a valuable resource by the recent cull of 5000 camels in the APY lands in South Australia.

 

The chairperson for the APY Lands justified the cull saying as result of the drought, camels were coming into communities seeking drinking water and damaging infrastructure.

 

Yes, this is correct, but easily avoided at these times by maintaining existing old bores, tanks and water troughs already remaining there from times when the much of the now Pitlands were pastoral leases grazing cattle.

 

A similar much publicised situation occurred at Docker River community some years back and from personal knowledge there were four bores fully equipped within 6km some of the community but not operational.

 

They would have provided drinking water and avoided camels coming into the community causing damage to houses, fencing and water taps.

 

As one an organisation receiving NT Government money informed me: “We get money for looking after houses, not animals,” obviously not making the connection that a water trough away from the community would deter horses and camels causing damage by coming in in search of water.

 

As a former NT cattle station manager and Australian Government Stock Inspector, I have worked with all breeds of commercial livestock and still see the environmental influence at all levels of government seeing camels as a feral animal and to be removed, preferably by culling.

 

In arid Central Australia in my opinion, camels are more suited to this environment than cattle.

 

Sheep and cattle are hard footed “feral animals” as they, like camels are an introduced species.

 

The only difference is we farm them with a ready market for meat and wool.

 

Camels are soft footed animals, and unlike sheep or cattle cause little or no damage to small breeding burrowing mammals, in three to four days can be trained, if not confined to small paddocks, do not overgraze and can significantly reduce buffel grass.

 

They also have a ruminal flora in their gut which allows them to digest unpalatable coarse feed and vegetation unpalatable and indigestible to cattle.

 

This is exchanged to cattle if drinking from the same water trough resulting in weight gain in the cattle.

 

There are domestic markets in Australia that can’t get camel meat and the only abattoir processing camels is in SA, is an export approved works that has a more lucrative market in Middle Eastern countries than selling their product locally.

 

Camel meat is indistinguishable in appearance and flavour from beef and unlike horse or kangaroo, has no odour.

 

With the Queensland. floods in 2019 and other areas of Australia just coming out of three years of drought, cattle numbers will take years to recover and the price of meat will increase to the point where families will be looking for a cheaper product.

 

This opportunity exists now for camel meat to fill this gap.

 

In the two weeks since the camel cull was completed there has been a strong overseas interest from Middle Eastern countries who are upset with the cull and want live animals.

 

The problem is the NT and WA pastoralist have no ready outlets and with government policy seeing and framing legislation categorising camels as feral animals, the pastoralists have little interest in farming them.

 

In 2017-18 the NT Government, to their credit, conducted a number of meetings here in Alice Spring to gauge the level of interest in developing a camel industry, resulting in a report suggesting the industry if it is to develop, it will need to farm camels and not rely on mustering feral animals.

 

A change of policy at government and industry level is needed, pastoralists including the NTCA need to recognise that camels do have a value and diversifying into a cattle property will have economic benefits.

 

The land councils should recognise that in those arid indigenous land trusts where few economic opportunities exist, they need to look at the benefits of farming camels rather than culling.

 

Those Middle Eastern countries saying there are unlimited markets for live cameIs, should put their money where their mouth is and invest in local infrastructure to support those contractors, pastoralists and others that want to economically utilise camels.

 

Camels are the symbol for Central Australia, we should work towards utilizing them as a resource.

 

Alan Keeling

Alice Springs

 

 

 

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2 Comments (starting with the most recent)

NB: If you want to reply to a previous comment, start your comment with this notation: @n where n is the number of the comment you want to reply to.
  1. Rosemary Lester
    Posted February 1, 2020 at 8:47 am

    I want to make one comment about the fact that camels consume a lot of the delicate succulents in the desert.
    Unlike a bird once consumed the plant will not seed from the camels droppings. We are seeing a lot of the ecology changing at a rapid rate threatening native species.
    We really need support to develop a camel industry. Previously there has been a lot of work but no real support and investment by governments.

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  2. Driving The NT Economy!
    Posted February 1, 2020 at 7:50 am

    We must back people and importantly work on great projects such as this one, Australia would be delighted if this went ahead, what a huge market is out there for those educated in the world economy.
    Yet an eco friendly revenue raising and importantly job creating industry such as camel farming we see a voice in the wilderness bringing this to our attention.
    Well done to Mr Alan Keeling from Alice Springs, it is his get up and go that has made Australia great and keeping it that way.
    Australia just did not happen, it has been built up socially and economically from when before it was in the stone age and not to my liking of a living standard.
    I sincerely hope Mr Keeling has Aboriginal support as we hear so many stories of sit down money and the shame and stigma of Aboriginal people endure from lethargic attitudes and an acceptance of a low standard of living.
    This fantastic camel resource cannot be wasted in remote Australia, we should support Mr Keeling all others who grow jobs for Australians.
    Nice work, Mr Keeling, I expect you should be heard at the highest levels.

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