CACIA via AP file
Ranchers in central Australia catch a camel roaming wild on their property in this undated file photo.
updated 4/26/2005 11:26:56 AM ET 2005-04-26T15:26:56

The camel is not an animal usually associated with Australia’s Outback. But they seem to like the place — perhaps a little too much.

Thousands of wild camels will be shot from helicopters in an effort to reduce their numbers, a state official said Tuesday.

Animal welfare groups were outraged at the plans. “You cannot cleanly kill, instantly kill, humanely kill a moving animal from a moving platform,” said Hugh Wirth, the national president of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Camels were introduced to Australia in the mid-1880s to transport supplies across the desert. After trains and trucks replaced them, they were released into the wild, where, with no natural predators and ample grazing land, the population exploded.

500,000 estimate
Some scientists have estimated as many as 500,000 wild camels are now roaming the country’s vast deserts.

In South Australia state, authorities have announced plans to cull the animals because they are encroaching on ranch land. Rural lands inspector Chris Turner said camel numbers near ranch lands have reached about 60,000, straining the limited water supplies for sheep and cattle.

“It’s estimated that the camel population increases by about 11 percent per year,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio, adding that it was necessary to cap the animals’ population. “The simplest, quickest and most cost effective way of doing that is an aerial cull,” he said.

Marksmen would be employed to shoot the animals from helicopters, the ABC reported on Tuesday. The report said thousands of animals would be culled, but did not specify exactly how many.

Turner also declined to comment on the exact number.

Activists expect 'bloodbath'
Glenys Oogjes, head of the animal welfare group Animals Australia, said aerial shooting has been used in the past to cull wild horses and goats and the result has been a “bloodbath.”

“We’ve seen terrible cruelty involved in that sort of killing spree and it’s virtually impossible operating from the air to check that every animal is killed outright,” Oogjes said.

Australia has a history of infestations by animals from overseas.

Rabbits brought from Europe swarmed across parts of the Outback, and noxious cane toads brought from South America to control bugs in sugar cane fields are now spreading across the north, killing native wildlife from snakes to small crocodiles that eat them.

Australia has also had to deal with population problems with it's national symbol, the koala. Their numbers are declining in most of the country, but two areas have less habitat than what the local population needs to survive. Contraception is being tested in one area, while shooting koalas has been proposed in the other.

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