Stakeholder Interviews: Jan Ferguson - Managing Director, Ninti One Limited
Jan Ferguson - Managing Director, Ninti One Limited
Jan Ferguson, Managing Director of Ninti One Limited, the organisation responsible for the Australian Feral Camel Management Project, talks about what the project is doing to manage the problem of feral camels.
The views, opinions, and other information expressed in these interviews are those of the participants and may not reflect the position of the Australian Feral Camel Management Project.
Interview with Jan Ferguson – Interview 7.49
Jan Ferguson, as Managing Director of Ninti One Limited, the organisation responsible for the Australian Feral Camel Management Project, you’re probably the best person to ask: why are feral camels such a problem?
Well, they live across the landscape so they exist on a landscape scale, they’re enormously huge animals and they eat a lot. So when you have a million of them marauding around in outback Australia you finish up with quite a significant environmental problem.
So what is the Project doing to manage that environmental problem?
Well, the Project is working to reduce the numbers around significant environmental assets. So some of what you would hear about the project is about culling and how many numbers and those sorts of things, but in reality this project has always been about reducing the number of camels around significant assets. For example, Serpentine Lakes, Dalhousie Springs, places like that, that are significant in our environmental heritage and we don’t want them actually destroyed by camels.
I guess from what you are saying one of the chief aims of the project is to minimise the impact on people who are living with camels?
Absolutely, they are not a small animal to live with. We have romanticised them in terms of a whole series of things to do with them and that’s a great part of camels and what they do, and riding camels is good fun and all that sort of thing, but the reality of it is any animal left to run free and become feral becomes a problem.
I flew over Lake Eyre today and I’ve flown over it last week as well and the amount of water that is in it has increased just in those few days. So we have a significant amount of water in outback Australia.
I was living out bush before in 1974 when we had this same sort of season and the reality of it is movement becomes difficult. You know you have roads that get cut, you can’t get fuel in. One of the communities that Ninti One works with, a fortnight ago was down to its last three 44s (gallon drums) of diesel.
So you are in a situation where people are more interested in actually how they do their day-to-day work, their day-to-day existence, then they are things which are good to do, but when you can’t get food in that obviously becomes a priority over things like the camel project.
So we’re working with the season, we’re working when we can work, but when the season dictates that you can’t access a number of these places, well then obviously we have to take account of that.
We also have to be cost effective with the project, so just removing a few camels at a significant cost is not what the project aims to do either. We will work when it is economic to do so.
Is one of the aims of the project to reduce camel numbers?
Well obviously that’s part of it, but as I said before a much greater part of it is actually, there’s no specific number that we are looking to eradicate, that’s not how the Caring for our Country grant is described. It’s described about protecting significant cultural assets, as I said Dalhousie Springs, Serpentine Lakes, places like that, which are significant and shouldn’t be fouled by camels.
I guess there are other players in this as well?
Oh, this is a big partnership. There are a significant number of partners in this project and that is what Ninti One does. Ninti One brings together consortiums of partners, so that everyone can work together and achieve something that in isolation neither one of them could do on their own.
So there are 19 partners in the camel project and that’s everything from Land Councils to governments to pastoral landholders; it’s a real mixture of people who have some reason to care about a piece of country.
Is there a solution to the feral camel problem?
Well any feral animal problem comes by a series of controls and there’s a whole series of ways of reducing the number of camels in Australia, some of which this project will attend to and some which will need to be done over the longer term. So there’s a place for industry, there’s a place for this kind of project, there’s a place for everybody in this, and actually there are enough camels to go around for everybody.
Look, it is a problem man created but that doesn’t mean we don’t need to fix it. There are lots of problems that man creates but you don’t allow them to continue to be a problem. You actually get on and fix it, because if we don’t fix this problem the environmental damage is just going to be massive.
Talking about damage, we’ve spoken to the RSPCA who are actually on the Steering Committee for this project. What would you say to some of the more fringe animal liberation groups who say that this is a travesty and we really shouldn’t be killing any animal?
Look I’ve spoken to any of those organisations that have rung us and wanted to talk to us, as have my staff, and the reality of it is that if we don’t do something about camels a lot of other smaller plants and animals will disappear from our flora and fauna of Australia. So, it’s about us deciding what we want. Do we want something that is exotic, came in from overseas, and is doing phenomenal damage, or do we want our own flora and fauna to survive? So it really comes down to that.
I don’t like the idea of it either, you know I like camels as much as anybody else does; however, I can understand at an intellectual level the damage that they’re causing, and that we can’t allow this to continue. You know we don’t allow rabbits to continue unhindered and we can’t afford to let camels continue unhindered.
One of the arguments we’ve also heard is that if we don’t do anything it’s actually inhumane to camels.
Look, some of the worst photos I’ve seen in this job where when before the seasons we’re having now, we had a big dry, and there were all of these animals congregating around a waterhole, around a waterhole dying, an absolutely dreadful, inhumane death. I put it to anyone that that’s just hideous and so we can’t afford to let that happen either, that’s just not the answer.
We need to deal with this issue in as humane terms as we can so that we maintain, as I said, our biological assets of Australia.
Over what period are we looking at managing this problem, is it a short-term fix?
Look, any feral pest that you actually take a big dent in the population and then don’t manage it, it will just come back. So this project sits in the context of the National Feral Camel Action Plan. This problem will not be fixed by this project. It will be improved by this project but we will need ongoing strategies as a country, as we have done with donkeys, horses, rabbits and any of the other things that have gone feral as a result of migration patterns from overseas.
The significance of this issue is underscored by the significance of the funding that has come from the Australian Government for this project and the funding of the other 19 partners. This is a significant effort going into this project but if it hadn’t been for the Caring for our Country grant then the project wouldn’t have had the impetus that it has got.
A lot of other people are contributing to the project but it's in-kind resources, it's access to country, it’s their own resource on their country but it’s the Australian Government who have actually understood as a result of the research that was done how important it is to deal with this issue now.