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Making Better Use of Feral Camels

Kevin Ellard
Albany Office
Project Officer for the Camel Industry Project

Agriculture Western Australia is currently investigating the potential for development of a viable & sustainable livestock industry using existing herds of feral camels. This is a joint project currently being undertaken with the Northern Territory & Queensland Departments of Primary Industry in conjunction with the Central Australian Camel Industry Association and the Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation.

In 1993, an aerial survey of central Australia indicated that the wild camel population could be as high as 200, 000. It is estimated that 50% of this population is located within the remote pastoral or desert regions of Western Australia.

In this state feral camels are declared vermin and constitute a nuisance  to pastoralists in the Pilbara and Kalgoorlie regions through their destruction of fences and watering points.  At present they are periodically culled but no use is made of the carcase apart from occasional use for pet meat. Feral camels have in the past been mustered for export overseas or use in the tourism industry.

Production of camel meat began in Alice Springs during 1988 but kills have also been undertaken at abattoirs in both Queensland and South Australia. Peterborough Abattoir in South Australia now regularly processes camels for the Central Australian Camel Industry Association. Studies previously undertaken indicate that there is potential to develop both domestic and export markets based on camel meat and live animals.

The  meat is lean and has received the National Heart Foundation's tick of approval whilst retaining excellent flavour and cooking qualities. Coles and Woolworths have recognised the value of camel meat as a saleable product and currently market various fresh and frozen lines within their stores in other states. Recent changes to health regulations now allow camel  meat and milk to be sold for human consumption in Western Australia. It is hoped that these food products will also be marketed within this state in the near future.

This pilot project aims to investigate the economic and ecological benefits of harvesting feral camels for collection at strategic points for commercial slaughter or sale of live animals. It is planned that this will be undertaken in three stages;

  1. Calculate the present value of the industry to pet meat shooters and tourist operators together with the cost to the pastoral industry through damage caused by camels.

  1. Identify the degree of interest within Western Australia in developing a sustainable use of feral camels. Define the infrastructure required for the harvesting of feral camels and the expected returns or benefits to pastoralists.

  1. Form a 'Camel Industry Steering Committee' consisting of industry representatives to foster the development of the industry in Western Australia.

Agriculture Western Australia  is currently seeking feedback from pastoralists and industry groups. A property questionnaire was sent out to most stations during April. So far the response to this survey has been excellent, however any persons who have not been contacted or would like to have input into the project should contact Kevin Ellard at the Albany District Office on 08 9892 8444 (bh), 08 9844 8310 (ah) or 08 9841 2707 (fax), or their closest regional office.

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Updated 5 June 1997  
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