Australia has a problem that’s nearly 1 million strong. Wild camels are roaming the Australian outback and causing more harm than good. They are destroying scarce water supplies and property to the tune of 10 million Australian dollars a year. Now, a new website called CamelScan hopes to limit the damage by enlisting the help of citizens. On this website, the public can report feral camel sightings and damages using a Google maps-based tool.
Jan Ferguson, managing director of Ninti One Limited, the organization that manages the Feral Camel Management Project, which launched CamelScan says –
“They can do enormous damage. They can eat up to very high heights in our trees. When water is short, they go for running water. They will take pipes and air conditioning units off of walls, and smash up toilet systems. You need to count these animals. You need to know where they are and what they’re doing.”
So far nearly 150 sightings have been reported via the website. Camels aren’t endemic to Australia. They were brought from India when they were the only source of transport and use as pack animals in the 19th century. Mechanization made them useless and they were released into the wild where there population has increased ever since. The camels are spread over a 3.3 million square kilometer (nearly 1.3 million square mile) area.
Camels drink a lot of water, nearly 50 gallons in three minutes. Waterholes are their prime target. When herds converge there, the first ones get mired and trapped. The carcasses foul the water destroying the waterhole for all other species which depend on it. This worsens during periods of droughts.
The Feral Camel Management Project aims to protect key areas of biodiversity and native habitat. This includes the goal of reducing the camel density to one camel per 10 square kilometers around key locations. There are between five and 20 camels per square kilometer in some areas.
Jan Ferguson says that other methods to protect and manage the areas, such as putting up fences, are part of the group’s strategy. But herds of camels are a strong force and you need extensive barriers to keep them out. This is where mapping the movement of camels with the CamelScan web tool assumes importance.