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The aim of this code of practice is to provide information and guidance to vertebrate pest managers responsible for the control of feral camels. It includes advice on how to choose the most humane, target specific, cost effective and efficacious technique for reducing the negative impact of feral camels.
This code of practice (COP) is adopted nationally. Jurisdictions can apply more stringent requirements as long as they retain the principles set out in these codes. The COP should only be used subject to the applicable legal requirements (including OH&S) operating in the relevant jurisdiction.
There is an expectation that animal suffering associated with pest management be minimised. The most humane methods that will achieve the control programs’ aims must be used. Consideration of animal suffering should occur regardless of the status given to a particular pest species or the extent of the damage or impact created by that pest. While the ecological and economic rationales for the control of pests such as the feral camel are frequently documented, little attention has been paid to the development of an ethical justification as to how these pests are controlled. An ethical approach to pest control requires recognition of and attention to the welfare of all animals affected directly or indirectly by control programs. Ensuring such approaches are uniformly applied as management practices requires the development of agreed Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for pest animal control. These SOPs are written in a way which describes the procedures involved for each control technique as applied to each of the major pest animal species. While SOPs address animal welfare issues applicable to each technique, a Code of Practice (COP) is also required which brings together these procedures into a document which also specifies humane control strategies and their implementation. COPs encompass all aspects of controlling a pest animal species. This includes aspects of best practice principles, relevant biological information, guidance on choosing the most humane and appropriate control technique and how to most effectively implement management programs.
This code is based on current knowledge and experience in the area of feral camel control and will be revised as required to take into account advances in knowledge and development of new control techniques and strategies.
Pest animal – native or introduced, wild or feral, non-human species of animal that is currently troublesome locally, or over a wide area, to one or more persons, either by being a health hazard, a general nuisance, or by destroying food, fibre, or natural resources (Koehler, 1964).
Welfare – an animals’ state as regards its attempts to cope with its environment (Broom, 1999). Welfare includes the extent of any difficulty in coping or any failure to cope; it is a characteristic of an individual at a particular time and can range from very good to very poor. Pain and suffering are important aspects of poor welfare, whereas good welfare is present when the nutritional, environmental, health, behavioural and mental needs of animals are met. When welfare is good suffering is absent (Littin et al., 2004).
Humane Vertebrate Pest Animal Control – the development and selection of feasible control programs and techniques that avoid or minimise pain, suffering and distress to target and non-target animals (RSPCA, 2004).
Best Practice Management – a structured and consistent approach to the management of vertebrate pests in an attempt to achieve enduring and cost-effective outcomes. ‘Best practice’ is defined as the best practice agreed at a particular time following consideration of scientific information and accumulated experience (Braysher, 1993).
From an animal welfare perspective, it is highly desirable that pest control programs affect a minimum number of individuals and that effort is sustained so that pest densities always remain at a low level. Over the last decade, the approach to managing pest animals has changed. Rather than focussing on killing as many pests as possible, it is now realised that like most other aspects of agriculture or nature conservation, pest management needs to be carefully planned and coordinated. Pest animal control is just one aspect of an integrated approach to the management of production and natural resource systems. Most pests are highly mobile and can readily replace those that are killed in control programs. Unless actions are well planned and coordinated across an area, individual control programs are unlikely to have a lasting effect. When planning pest management, there are some important steps that should be considered (after Braysher & Saunders, 2002).
Implementing effective and humane pest control programs requires a basic understanding of the ecology and biology of the targeted pest species and in some cases those species affected directly (non-targets) or indirectly (prey species) by a control program. It is also essential to understand the impact created by the pest i.e. what is the problem? Managers should take the time to make themselves aware of such information by reading the recommended texts at the end of this code of practice. A brief summary of the biology, ecology and impacts of feral camels follows. This information is extracted from the report ‘Overview of the project – Cross-jurisdictional management of feral camels to protect NRM and cultural values’ by Edwards et al. (2008) and also from a fact sheet titled ‘The feral camel (Camelus dromedarius)’ by the Natural Heritage Trust, Department of Environment and Heritage (2004).
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 aerial 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, with the arid regions of WA, SA, the NT, and parts of Qld being affected. The feral camel population in Australia today is estimated to be approximately one million with numbers increasing at a rate of around 8% per year.
Feral camels wander widely according to conditions, sometimes covering 70 kilometres in a day. In summer, they are usually found in bushland and sandplain country that offers food and shelter from the sun, but in winter they move to salt lakes and salt marshes. As well as grazing on grass, feral camels browse on vegetation as high as 3.5 metres above the ground. They eat most plant material, including fresh grasses and shrubs, preferring roughage to pasture that has introduced grasses or has been fertilised. Camels appear to eat half to ¾ that of cattle in terms of dry matter as a percentage of body weight. The expected dry matter intake for a 450kg camel is ~7.5kg of dry matter per day (Manefield and Tinson 2000). It is difficult to estimate a camel’s daily intake of fresh vegetation in kg as this depends on the moisture and nutrient content of the feed.
Camels have a high need for salt and they eat salty plants, even thorny, bitter or toxic species that are avoided by other herbivores. At times when forage is green and moist, feral camels gain all the water they need from their food and do not require drinking water. If water is available in summer, camels will drink regularly, usually at dawn. In extreme drought they need access to waterholes. Contrary to legend, the hump is mostly fat, a store of energy rather than water. The feral camel lives in non- territorial groups of three main kinds: year-round groups of bulls (males); summer groups of cows (females) and calves; and winter breeding groups that include a mature bull and several cows and their calves. Only old bulls tend to be solitary. Larger herds may form in summer when groups congregate. During the breeding season, from May to October, rutting males have a herd of many cows, which they defend against advances from other bulls. Pregnancy lasts about 13 months and a cow gives birth to a single young, which is weaned at about 18 months. Captive camels can live for as long as 50 years and breed for at least 30 years.
The harmful impacts of feral camels fall into three main categories: economic, environmental, and social/cultural. Negative economic impacts of feral camels mainly include direct control and management costs, impacts on livestock production through camels competing with stock for food and other resources, damage of infrastructure, and damage to people and vehicles due to collisions. Negative environmental impacts of feral camels include damage to vegetation through feeding behaviour and some trampling; suppression of recruitment in some plant species; damage to wetlands through fouling, trampling, and sedimentation; and competition with native animals for food and shelter. Feral camels have significant negative impacts on the social/cultural values of Aboriginal people. Camels damage sites, such as waterholes, that have cultural significance to Aboriginal people; they destroy bush tucker resources, reduce people’s enjoyment of natural areas, create dangerous driving conditions, and cause a general nuisance in residential areas. In addition, camels could also potentially be involved in the spread of exotic diseases such as bluetongue, Rinderpest, Rift valley fever, surra (trypanosomiasis), and bovine tuberculosis if outbreaks of these diseases occurred in Australia.
Feral camels can also have both positive economic and environmental impacts. Landholders can derive economic benefit from feral camels by using their meat for domestic consumption or by selling them for other uses that includes pet meat, leather and export meat products. Small numbers of feral camels are also used in the tourism industry. Many Aboriginal people believe that feral camels should be used to provide benefits to local people, including income and jobs. Camels have also been used for woody weed control in Queensland.
The control of feral camels is challenging because of their wide-spread distribution, high mobility, low density and low requirement for water. At present, management mostly involves periodic aerial culling and live capture by mustering or trapping at water. Ground-based shooting and exclusion fencing are also used. However, none of these methods have had a significant impact on the overall population of camels. Reducing the density of camels, particularly at key assets, is an important strategy to achieve damage mitigation. Since camels have a relatively slow rate of population increase the best approach for reducing population density is to target adult survival not reproductive output.
Exclusion fencing is useful for protecting key risk areas but does not reduce populations. It is expensive and limited in its application. Aerial shooting and trapping at water points is effective during drought when camels are congregating near water points but is less effective at other times.
The capture and removal of feral camels can provide an income for land managers, particularly Aboriginal people living in isolated communities. However it is generally only economical to harvest feral camels when they have congregated in accessible areas or where they are at relatively high densities.
Various stakeholders can have divergent and sometimes conflicting views regarding pest management. For example, some stakeholders see feral camels as a resource while others see them as a pest. Consequently, landscape scale control strategies may need to address a range of views and be flexible in achieving the desired outcomes. In the case of feral camel control, all removal activities that are legal, humane and cost effective are considered as valid options and the final selection of removal activity remains the responsibility of the various landholders.
By necessity, any control effort should be sustained. The best strategy is to develop a plan which maximizes the effect of control operations and reduces the need to cull large numbers of animals on a regular basis. There are three essential requirements for a pest control plan – necessity, effectiveness and humaneness.
Feral camel control techniques have the potential to cause animals to suffer. To minimise this risk the most humane technique that will achieve the control program’s aims should be used. This will be the technique that causes the least amount of pain and suffering to the target animal with the least harm or risk to non-target animals, people and the environment. The technique must also be effective in the situation where it will be used (e.g. trapping will have little effect when there is plenty of surface water and/or succulent feed available). It is also important to remember that the humaneness of a technique is highly dependant on whether or not it is correctly employed. In selecting techniques it is therefore important to consider whether sufficient resources are available to implement that technique properly.
Effective management of feral camels and their impact will not only require the application of a range of control methods but also a strategic approach that involves collaboration across
jurisdictions. Feral camels are very mobile and move over very large areas. Consequently, extensive buffer zones will be needed in arid regions to protect environmentally sensitive areas from camel impacts if these threaten biodiversity values in those areas. Also, because feral camels are wide ranging, it is imperative that the relevant State and Territory Governments act together to manage the species across its entire range.
Control techniques with the widest practical application across Australia and greatest potential for effective control of feral camels are aerial shooting and ground shooting, mustering and trapping at water. Fencing that excludes camels but allows free access by wildlife has also been use to reduce damage to key waterholes. Fertility control is not likely to be an efficient form of population control since most camels live in the vast rangelands of central Australia making delivery of any fertility control agent problematic.
Different techniques are best suited to particular situations depending on issues such as camel density, accessibility, geography and season. Aerial culling by properly trained and accredited shooters using approved procedures is considered to be a humane way to reduce feral camel numbers over large areas. The process is quick and, depending on circumstances, may be more humane than mustering, yarding and transportation for slaughter.
Cost-effectiveness, humaneness and efficacy for each control technique are useful in deciding the most appropriate strategy. A brief evaluation of the humaneness of control techniques follows:
Fertility control is seen by some as a preferred method of broad-scale feral camel control as it offers a potential humane and target specific alternative to lethal methods. However, delivery of hormones or vaccines that have a transient contraceptive effect are difficult to administer to large numbers of free-roaming camels and there is no long-acting or permanent method of fertility control presently available; therefore repeated administration would be required. Consequently, its application is not currently feasible for most Australian conditions where feral camel numbers are high and their domain extensive.
Exclusion fencing is generally regarded as a humane, non-lethal alternative to lethal control methods. However, fencing of large areas is expensive to construct and maintain and is difficult in rugged and/or extensive terrain. Therefore it is only feasible and economical for protecting smaller areas of high conservation or cultural value. Exclusion fencing is mostly used to prevent access of camels to important cultural sites on Aboriginal land, primarily waterholes.
Camel-proof fences around waterholes deny access to drinking water. There are significant animal welfare considerations with this form of management, if there are no other waterholes nearby. If the objective is to prevent camels from going into a waterhole and fouling it or becoming trapped, rather than stopping them from drinking, a more humane approach is to use a ‘spider’ structure. This is placed over the waterhole to prevent camels from entering the water but still allows them access to the water to drink.
Although exclusion fencing acts as a barrier to feral camels it can have negative effects on non-target species by altering dispersion and foraging patterns, and causing entanglement. It can also create a significant hazard to wildlife in the event of a bushfire. Fences constructed to exclude feral camels from a water source should not preclude wildlife such as kangaroos and dingoes.
Mustering will expose feral camels to extended periods of stress and anxiety compared to aerial culling. To minimise this impact, it is preferable to use coacher camels which calm the mob and minimise potential for injury, exhaustion or separation of dependent calves from cows. Camels will be less stressed if they are mustered using horses or 4WD vehicles rather than motorbikes.
Feral camels should be handled quietly without force to avoid panic and trampling. The tail end of the mob must be allowed to set the pace rather than being forced to keep up with the leaders. Camels must not be driven to the point of collapse. Distances that the camels have to be mustered should be kept to a minimum e.g. by using portable yards.
It is preferable not to muster together separate feral camel social groups when bulls are in rut (April- September). However if this cannot be avoided, all mature bulls must be drafted off from mixed social groups of cows / calves / young bulls as soon as possible after capture. Not withstanding the above, some rutting bulls may have to be humanely culled to avoid injury to young calves and fighting between competing males.
Trapping presents different risks than mustering, given that the camels are not driven into the trap but go in quietly of their own accord. However herds of mixed ages and sexes are held together until separated so there is still the potential for welfare problems during the process of holding, handling and transferring the camels from the trap to a vehicle for transport.
To minimise the possibility of stress and injury, all traps must be inspected at least once daily. Bayonet gates must be removed from trap yards when yards cannot be inspected with appropriate frequency. Camels must have access to water and feed if they are to be held for more than 24 hours. Traps should be constructed to provide camels with shade and shelter and should be large enough to avoid overcrowding. In addition yards should be well drained to allow camels to sit down in areas free of surface water after rainfall.
Capture and handling should be avoided when females are calving or have dependent young at foot. Dependent calves that do not accompany their mother into the trap may be separated and die of starvation or if trapped can get trampled underfoot.
Camel traps can have a negative impact on native non-target species (especially macropods) by inadvertently trapping them and also by excluding them from water sources. This impact can be minimised by using a suitable yard design that incorporates fencing material and gates that allow wildlife to escape if trapped. Also, the fencing used to protect alternative water sources from camels when trapping should allow access to wildlife species.
Mustering, capture and handling increase stress in feral camels as they are not used to confinement or close contact with humans. Consequently, these procedures have the potential to cause mismothering, feeding disruption, social disruption, and also abortion in heavily pregnant females. Metabolic, nutritional and parasitic diseases and also changes in environmental conditions may cause mortality and morbidity in confined feral camels, especially when confined for long periods.
The removal of trapped feral camels off-property for either sale to abattoirs, live export, or for domestication, involves additional stress to animals.
Shooting is considered more humane than capture and removal as the animals are not subject to the stresses of mustering, yarding, and long-distance transportation.
Shooting can be a humane method of destroying free-roaming feral camels when it is carried out by experienced, skilled and responsible shooters; the animal can be clearly seen and is within range; the correct firearm, ammunition and shot placement is used; and any wounded animals are promptly located and killed as quickly and humanely as possible.
If lactating females are shot, dependent calves should also be shot quickly and humanely. Ground shooting is not suited to rough country as wounded animals cannot be effectively pursued and would suffer unnecessarily.
Shooting is also used to euthanase camels that have been captured by mustering or trapping when they are injured or diseased, there is no market for them or for other reasons as described in the relevant SOP.
Aerial shooting of feral camels from a helicopter can be a humane control method when it is carried out by highly skilled and experienced shooters and pilots; the correct firearm, ammunition and shot placement is used; and any wounded animals are promptly located and killed. Shooting from a moving platform can significantly detract from the shooter’s accuracy therefore helicopter shooting operations may not always result in a clean kill for all animals. Follow-up procedures are essential to ensure that any wounded animals are killed.
With aerial shooting of camels, initial head shots are most frequently made to achieve instantaneous loss of consciousness and loss of brain function. After the initial head shot, further shot/s must be fired into the cranium or chest to ensure death.
Table 1: Humaneness, Efficacy, Cost-effectiveness and Target Specificity of Feral Camel Control Methods
|Control Technique||Acceptability of technique with regard to humaneness*||Efficacy||Cost- effectiveness||Target Specificity||Comments|
|Exclusion fencing||Acceptable||Limited||Expensive||Can be in certain situations||Expensive, therefore impractical for large scale application. Fencing can be effective for small, critical (economic or environmental) areas, though the maintenance costs are still high. Will have significant animal welfare impacts if camels are denied access to drinking water and there are no other sources of water nearby.|
|Fertility control||Conditionally Acceptable||Not currently effective||Expensive||Target-specific||Not currently available. Not currently possible for large scale control. Not suitable for population control in long-lived animals with a slow rate of increase when impact mitigation is a primary objective.|
|Mustering||Conditionally acceptable||Effective||Cost-effective. Requires sufficient returns to musterers to offset costs.||Target-specific||Efficient and cost-effective where camels are present in high densities, terrain is relatively flat and camel prices are sufficient.
Increased welfare concerns associated with capture and transport of camels, particularly if over large distances. May be more costly than trapping depending on trap location and accessibility.
|Trapping||Conditionally acceptable||Effective||Cost-effective||Can have an impact on non-target species. Trapped non-target species must be removed as quickly as possible to avoid undue stress or death. Traps at natural water holes may restrict access by native species. Traps should be designed so that most wildlife can go through fences or under gates.||Can be used to trap animals to facilitate ground culling operations. Most effective when conditions are dry and there are few waterholes around where camels can drink. Cost-efficient method of capture, particularly when camels are trapped for sale and the trap facility is built in conjunction with trucking facility. If best practice is not adhered to there are significant animal welfare considerations with the implementation of this method.|
|Ground shooting||Acceptable if undertaken by approved and accredited operators||Not effective at reducing high density population s but can manage low densities and/or provide a solution to congregati ons during dry times.||Not cost – effective for large scale removal operations.||Target-specific||Labour intensive, only suitable for smaller scale, opportunistic operations. Most useful during drought and where camels cannot be captured by trapping or mustering. Limited application in good seasons when there is lots of water around and camels are widely dispersed.|
|Aerial Shooting||Acceptable if undertaken by approved and accredited operators||Effective||Relatively expensive. Can be cost- effective when camel density is high but cost prohibitive when camel densities are low||Target-specific||Suitable for extensive areas and inaccessible country where landholder consent is obtained. In these circumstances it is a most effective way of achieving quick, large scale culling during congregation events or in high density areas.|
For regional variations on control techniques refer to local legislation and regulations. For additional examples refer to the NSW DPI Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs).
SOPs are currently available for the following feral camel control methods:
All those involved in pest animal control should familiarise themselves with relevant aspects of the appropriate Commonwealth and State or Territory legislation. The table below gives some of the relevant legislation. This list is not exhaustive and the legislation is constantly being reviewed.
|Commonwealth||Agricultural and Veterinary Chemicals Code Act 1994 Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999|
|ACT||Animal Welfare Act 1992 Nature Conservation Act 1980 Poisons Act 1933
Pesticides Act 1989 Animal Diseases Act 1993
Prohibited Weapons Act 1996 Firearms Act 1996
Environment Protection Act 1997 Rabbit Destruction Act 1919
|New South Wales||Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1979 Pesticides Act 1999
Rural Lands Protection Act 1998 National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 Game and Feral Animal Control Bill 2002
Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 Wild Dog Destruction Act 1923
|Northern Territory||Animal Welfare Act
Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act Poisons and Dangerous Drugs Act
|Queensland||Animal Care and Protection Act 2001
Health (Drugs and Poisons) Regulation 1996
Land Protection (Pest and Stock Route Management) Act 2002 Nature Conservation Act 1992
|South Australia||Animal Welfare Act 1985
Natural Resources Management Act 2004 Controlled Substances Act 1984
National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 Dog Fence Act 1946
|Tasmania||Animal Welfare Act 1993 Vermin Control Act 2000 Poisons Act 1971
Agricultural And Veterinary Chemical (Control of Use) Act 1995 National Parks and Wildlife Act 1970
Police Offences Act 1935
|Victoria||Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 Catchment and Land Protection Act 1994
Agriculture and Veterinary Chemicals (Control of Use) Act 1992 Drugs, Poisons and Controlled Substances Act 1981
Wildlife Act 1975
Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 National Parks Act 1975
|Western Australia||Animal Welfare Act 2002
Agriculture Protection Board Act 1950
Agriculture and Related Resources Protection Act 1976 Poisons Act 1964
Wildlife Conservation Act 1950 Biological Control Act 1986
Biosecurity and Agriculture Management Act 2007
|Other relevant legislation
Occupational Health and Safety Acts Dangerous Goods or Substances Acts Dog Acts
Civil Aviation Acts
Note: copies of the above legislation and relevant regulations may be obtained from Federal, State and Territory publishing services.
Feature image by Dave Waterson
Trudy Sharp & Glen Saunders, 2012. Model code of practice for the humane control of feral camels. Code of Practice. PestSmart website. https://pestsmart.org.au/toolkit-resource/model-code-of-practice-for-the-humane-control-of-feral-camels accessed 26-10-2021