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August 10, 2009

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Australia considers mass culling of wild camels

THOUSANDS of camels in Australia's remote Outback could be killed by marksmen in helicopters under a government proposal aimed at cutting down the population of the havoc-wreaking creatures.

Camels were first introduced into Australia in the 1840s to help explorers travel through the Australian desert, but now there are about 1 million camels roaming the country, with the population doubling every nine years.

They compete with sheep and cattle for food, trample vegetation and invade remote settlements in search of water, scaring residents as they tear apart bathrooms and rip up water pipes.

Last month, the federal government set aside A$19 million (US$16 million) for a program to help slash the population.

Besides sending in sharpshooters in helicopters and on foot, officials are considering proposals to turn some of the creatures into tasty treats such as camel burgers.

Glenn Edwards, who is working on drafting the Australian government's camel reduction program, said the population needs to be slashed by two-thirds to reduce catastrophic damage.

Paddy McHugh, who catches camels all around the country and exports them, said a cull would be ineffective and said he has seen an explosion in international demand for the animals.

The main problem with trying to capture and export the animals is that they can grow up to 2 meters tall and weigh 900 kilograms, said Patrick Medway, president of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Australia.

"You imagine trying to catch a lion or a tiger or an elephant in its native habitat and then bring it back and sell it to another country," Medway said. "It's not an easy thing to do."

Tony Peacock, CEO of the University of Canberra's Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Center, said a cull was the most effective method.

"To be shot from a helicopter is actually quite humane, even though that sounds brutal," he said. "If I was a camel, I'd prefer to just get it in the head."


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