Friday, March 17, 2017

Australia Has More Camels Than You

Australia is known for having an impressive array of deadly and improbable beasts, but my favorite (other than the cappaberra, who can resist those cute guys?) isn't a native to Australia, but an immigrant from the Middle East, the camel.

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Real life Australian road sign.
Back at the time of first colonization Australia was no less large and terrifying then it is today, the difference being that Australians of yore didn't know exactly how much they had to be afraid of. There was this enormous interior part of the country that was inhospitable, and traveling there often resulted in death. However, camels are oft cited as the 'ships of the desert', and since the middle of Australia certainly isn't a temperate zone, in 1822 it was suggested that these marvelous beasts be brought to the continent.

It wasn't until about 1840 that this suggestion was acted upon, and Harry, the first camel in Australia, arrived from the Canary Islands. Harry was a fine, and weird looking fellow that charmed those he met, until he killed his handler. Then people weren't so keen on Harry.

With the first Australian camel being a bit of a disaster, Australians decided that in addition to the camels, they also needed to import people who knew how to handle them, so along with the next batch of camels came Arab Cameleers.

This is when camels started to really take off. Arab Cameleers made forays into the Outback to set up infrastructure, and trade with the Aboriginal people. They set up camel trains to cart product from one end of the continent to another, setting up lucrative businesses for themselves and the Aboriginal people they paid as guards and guides. For a while, a camel was the only way into the Australian Outback.

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Camel mob
But then cars, planes, and trains came on the scene and ruined everything. Because who wants to ride an uncomfortable, pungent camel for three weeks when you can take a comfortable train, and arrive at your destination within a week?

Consequentially, the camel business took a downward turn. Many Cameleers simply let their camels go, and settled down in a different trade. This lead to a large unsupervised camel population in the center of Australia. This wouldn't be a problem, except that camels are hell for the Australian environment. Camels will eat pretty much any plant, and go to any lengths to get water. They destroy fences, farm buildings, air conditioners in their search for water. They can drink up an entire water hole, leaving Aboriginal people with no water. One or two might be manageable, but there was a million of these beasts, and it was having a serious negative impact on both the environment and the inhabitants of the Australian Outback.

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Behold the terrifying beast
The solution? Kill them. A culling initiative was put into action in 2013, cutting the population back to 600 thousand. This, unsurprisingly, outraged animal rights activists worldwide, and while it has certainly cut down on Australia's camel population, marauding bands of camels still roam the countryside robbing simple farmers of their water.

Given the camel population, is it surprising that Australia has a camel industry? The Aussies have made the best of their camel problems. Camels are exported to other countries, and used for food. Camel hair is used in Aboriginal art, and Australia even has a camel dairy. Despite their best efforts, however, Australia has far too many camels, and the population is projected to double every 8 to 10 years.

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