Chapter 2: Ecology of feral camels in Australia

Chapter 2: Ecology of feral camels in Australia Report

Managing the impacts of feral camels in Australia: a new way of doing business

  • Author(s): Saalfeld, WK, Edwards, GP ,
  • Secondary Author(s): Edwards, GP, McGregor, MJ, Zeng, B, Vaarzon-Morel, P, Saalfeld, WK
  • Tertiary Author(s): Desert Knowledge CRC,
  • Published: 2008
  • Publisher: Desert Knowledge CRC
  • Volume: DKCRC Research Report No. 47

Abstract: The camel played an important role in the development of central Australia in both the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The replacement of the camel by the motor vehicle in the early twentieth century resulted in large numbers of animals being released into the wild and the subsequent establishment of a feral population in arid Australia. Monitoring of Australia’s camel population was haphazard at best until the 1980s. Since that time, a number of systematic surveys of camel distribution and abundance have been carried out across substantial areas of the camel’s distribution. The current distribution of the camel covers much of arid Australia. Up to 50% of Australia’s rangelands are reported as having camels present, as are most of the arid regions of Western Australia (WA), South Australia (SA), the Northern Territory (NT), and parts of Queensland (Qld). The research reported here supports a current population estimate for the feral camel in Australia of approximately one million animals covering an area of some 3.3 million km2 at an overall density of 0.29 camels/km2. Densities vary, and the modelling of available data indicates that two substantial areas of high density are present, one centred on the Simpson Desert and the other on the Great Sandy Desert. The high density area covering the eastern part of the Great Sandy Desert has predicted densities in the range of 0.5 to greater than 2 animals/km2 and that on the Simpson Desert in the range 0.5–1.0 animals/km2. Modelling of camel population dynamics gives population growth rates in the range of 7–8 % per year, reflecting intrinsic rates of increase in the range 0.074–0.079 (McLeod & Pople 2008). On the basis of these rates of increase, a population doubling time of about nine years is likely. Further, based on the current Australian camel population estimate, these rates indicate potential for increase at 80 000 camels per year and accelerating, due to the exponential nature of population growth and the belief that camels have not yet reached the carrying capacity of the land (McLeod & Pople 2008). Camels appear to use most available habitat, with use reflecting seasonal influences related to food availability and breeding. Habitat types not used to any measured extent include mountain ranges and salt pans/lakes, although camels have been reported from both of these habitats. Camels use almost all available food sources with a clear suite of preferred species and are subject to limited mortality other than natural mortality associated with age. Few of the resources needed by camels appear to be limiting at current population densities, with the possible exception of water. Increased water stress during hot dry summers is proposed as the causal factor for the encroachment of camels into remote central Australian communities in recent years. Camels were reported trying to obtain access to water by entering communities and damaging waterrelated infrastructure including bores, taps, and air conditioning units. It would appear that without management camel populations have the potential to persist in large and growing numbers in already occupied sites and to expand into presently unoccupied or sparsely occupied areas. Recommendations That efforts are made to achieve a better understanding of the factors influencing the movement patterns and population distribution of feral camels at the local to regional scale. This would allow static aerial survey data to be more accurately projected forwards and would facilitate the development of a dynamic model of feral camel density distribution. That the broadscale aerial survey database of feral camel distribution and abundance be expanded by implementing aerial survey in areas not previously covered in order to improve estimation of density distribution for feral camels. That a broadscale index-manipulate-index experiment related to broadscale aerial survey of feral camels be conducted to address the issue of environmental bias associated with current aerial survey estimates of feral camel population distribution and abundance. That a national database of feral camel aerial survey data be created incorporating all available aerial survey data related to feral camels from all jurisdictions, with data incorporated at the finest spatial scale available, and that this database be supported by all jurisdictions. That the national database be a core component of the development of a dynamic model of feral camel distribution and any other tools or models related to feral camel management, and that this imposes a requirement for complete and regular update of the database to ensure currency.

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Suggested Citation
Saalfeld, WK, Edwards, GP ,, 2008, Chapter 2: Ecology of feral camels in Australia, Volume:DKCRC Research Report No. 47, Report, viewed 03 December 2023,

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