News and Media
AFCMP Newsletter - April 2011
La Niña sides with the camels
When the Australian Feral Camel Management Project Steering Committee met in Adelaide in March, a key topic was the impact of very wet seasonal conditions for the rollout of the project. Although excellent progress has been made in obtaining landholder consents to undertake camel removal throughout most of the feral camel range, actual removal has been hampered by weather, with commercial activities being particularly affected. The strength of the La Niña system suggests that removal will continue to be a challenge during the autumn.
The project will continue to focus on gaining landholder consents and developing cross-border collaboration to maximise camel removal as the landscape dries out. The Steering Committee also heard about the wide range of monitoring and evaluation activities happening under the project - particularly the establishment of monitoring sites (see below) at key environmental assets to assess camel impact.
Waterholes are scarce in desert Australia and all provide vital resources for aquatic flora and fauna as well as desert animals, plants and birds. These waterholes are small, often less than a few square meters in size, and feral camels have shown they can do massive damage, moving long distances between waterholes, destroying them and preventing other animals from accessing water. To assess the damage research is being carried out into water chemistry, turbidity and the presence or absence of aquatic macro-invertebrates in desert waterholes. At a recent monitoring workshop NT NRETAS Aquatic Ecologist Dr Jayne Brim-Box gave an overview of how to assess the health of a water body with the aim of monitoring improvements as feral camel densities are reduced.
Candid camel camera
To assess the impact of feral camels on the Australian landscape the on-ground monitoring group plans to deploy remote motion-activated cameras at key waterholes. The cameras are a relatively low-cost technology that can provide a huge amount of information about what is using the waterhole round-the-clock, when field staff are busy elsewhere. Scientific methodologies for using remotely operated cameras are being published and will continue to be modified as the technology improves and becomes cheaper. Remote cameras have been used extensively in the USA and Africa. Watch this space for candid camel shots as the images start to roll!
AFCMP Newsletter - March 2011
WA camel group meets
The Western Australian Operations Group held its inaugural meeting in Perth on 22 February 2011 to inform key project partners about aims and governance of the Australian Feral Camel Management Project. The Group comprises representatives from the WA Department of Agriculture and Food, commercial camel use industry, pastoralists and graziers and Aboriginal organisations. Members provided updates on camel impact monitoring and management activities they are involved with, and the Group held preliminary discussions about the projected workplan in WA for 2011-12. The members of the group are Andrew Woolnough, Department of Agriculture and Food WA (Chair); Dennis Rafferty, Department of Agriculture and Food WA (Executive Officer); Quentin Hart, Ninti One Limited; Alex Knight, Ngaanyatjarra Council (not present); Scott Mills (proxy for Robin Mills, pastoralist); Chris O'Hara, commercial use industry representative; Rob Thomas, Central Desert Native Title Services; and Peter See, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa. Observers at this meeting were John Asher, WA Department of Environment and Conservation; Mac Jensen, Department of Agriculture and Food WA; and Andrew Longbottom, Department of Agriculture and Food WA.
Measuring Camel DamageMeasuring camel damage
Measuring the extent of damage that feral camels cause to the environment is a complex business. It raises questions such as, "Do trees survive this level of browsing by feral camels?" "Are plants growing enough to produce seed and the subsequent new plants after the feral camels browse them?" "Will feral camel damage to one plant species result in other species taking over, changing the species mix?"
To answer these questions the MERI on-ground monitoring group has developed methodologies to assess the damage caused by feral camels. They began by searching the scientific literature for reports on damage inflicted by elephants, giraffe, elk, moose and other browsing species. They then went into the field to take measurements of camel-damaged trees including height, trunk diameter, defoliation, number of broken branches, etc. This has resulted in a robust and consistent method for calculating feral camel damage to the landscape and to measure the improvement as their numbers decline.
Travellers and national parks supporters could make an invaluable contribution to monitoring camel numbers and behaviour in the central deserts, says Alan Hancox, president of the Friends of the Simpson Desert Parks volunteer group.
Alan himself has witnessed first-hand the severe impact of feral camels in the Simpson Desert Parks. "Working with adjoining land owners, the department has had an active control program in place for some years that has reduced visible numbers. However, immediately after a cull in 2005 we saw a mob of approximately 100 camels drinking at Purni Bore each night. Enormous damage had been done to shrubs, with red sand turned grey by camel droppings."
"Sightings by travellers depend very much on the season; in wet times the camels disperse, as water is freely available but in dry times they migrate to watering points and are seen in greater numbers. Perhaps that is the true measure of how many there are out there,” he adds.
Glenn Edwards reports that camel research is currently starring in the rangelands scientific literature. “Thought you might be interested to know that the papers from the camel research program are holding down positions 3, 5, 6, 9, 12, 14, 15 and 19 in the current 20 most read papers in The Rangeland Journal. Obviously that will change in time - but looks pretty good at the moment,” he says.
AFCMP Newsletter - February 2011
Camel damage - on the ground
This month a technical workshop will be held in Alice Springs to explore ways to measure the environmental damage caused by feral camels across a range of landscapes. These scientific methods of assessing the damage camels cause to plants, water holes and other wildlife will help to track ecosystem changes over time as feral camel densities are reduced and so give a clear picture of the effectiveness of control strategies. The workshop will involve ecologists, botanists and a range of other people with Natural Resource Management experience.
Rain and camels
The Australian spring was the wettest on record for Queensland, New South Wales, eastern Australia and the Murray-Darling Basin, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, due to exceptional rains in many parts of northern and central Australia which are normally dry at this time of year. As a result there has been outstanding growth of native vegetation and water supplies are abundant. These could potentially lead to an increase in feral camel numbers, and their dispersal across the landscape in smaller family herds – and signs of this have already been noted. The Australian Feral Camel Management Project is keeping a close eye on the situation through its partners.
One person who has witnessed the camel incursion at first hand is David Hewitt, a long-time resident of Central Australia. (David and his wife Margaret Hewitt were both awarded the Order of Australia Medal for service to remote Indigenous communities and to the community in 2009. They have spent over 40 years travelling and working extensively across remote and central Australia.) David is an invaluable member of our network of camel spotters.
He says that in recent years the situation with feral camels has changed dramatically. “Out at Kalka community near the corner of the three States, a couple of years ago we counted about 600 [camels] in the community there. They were destroying everything in sight, including thirty desert kurrajongs planted as street trees. We’ve seen beautiful rock holes totally destroyed,” he says.
David is worried about risk posed by feral camels to mail planes and the Royal Flying Doctor Service at remote community airstrips. “The airstrip at Amata was fenced at great cost to keep camels away. At Tjirrkarli we had to hunt camels off the airstrip before the mail plane could land.
There are risks to drivers as well. Just two weeks ago staff from Warakurna were travelling on a gravel road west of Kata Tjuta when they hit a camel; now their vehicle is in Alice Springs, undergoing repairs. A staff member at Docker River hit a camel last year, wrote off the vehicle and she finished up in hospital.
FeralScan is a new national web-based feral animal mapping tool that will have direct benefits to farmers, community groups and individuals managing feral pests and their impacts – especially camels.
The FeralScan website can be used by landholders and the community in general to record and map feral animal sightings, feral animal damage, and areas where control has been conducted. It will start with a re-launch of RabbitScan (originally released in 2009), followed by the release of online mapping of feral camels (called CamelScan) this month, A series of other pests will get their own websites in the months ahead.
The project is led by Industry & Investment NSW and the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre and has many partners, including Ninti One Ltd. Seewww.feralscan.org.au
AFCMP Newsletter - December 2010
The meeting of the Australian Feral Camel Management Project (AFCMP) National Operations Group (in Adelaide on December 7) will guide development of effective state/territory annual operating plans for 2011–12 based on coordinated cross-jurisdictional activity. One of the aims of the meeting is to ensure these annual operating plans are consistent with feral camel removal plans and will ensure effective biodiversity refugia protection. The Group is chaired by the AFCMP Project Manager Quentin Hart and includes state/territory representatives Dennis Rafferty (WA), Glenn Edwards (NT), Mark Weaver (Qld), and John Virtue (SA), and Glen Saunders, an independent feral animal management expert.
Accolade for our ‘camel drivers’
I’m delighted to report that the research into feral camels carried out by the DKCRC which is the main driver for the AFCMP has received a further recognition of its excellence, in the form of a Northern Territory Research and Innovation Award. The 2008 study by a team led by Dr Glenn Edwards of the Northern Territory Department of Natural Resources, Environment, the Arts and Sport was recognised in the presentation of the Southern Cross Television Desert Knowledge Award at a ceremony in Darwin on November 26. Warmest congratulations to authors Glenn, Murray McGregor, Benxiang Zeng, Petronella Vaarzon-Morel and Keith Saalfeld.
AFCMP Newsletter - November 2010
Focus on camel impact
Over the past week, two members of the Australian Feral Camel Management Project team have been travelling with Martu Aboriginal rangers across their lands in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, filming their stories and interviewing pastoralists and mining companies about the real impact of feral camels. These interviews, soon to be available on the project’s website, show that in such an isolated and beautiful region, the damage caused by feral camels to flora and fauna can be devastating, and there is significant damage to vital waterholes. The Martu Ranger group is delivering important environmental services across two million hectares, particularly in collecting data on feral animals to inform ongoing control programs.
Steering camel plans
The third Steering Committee meeting for the Australian Feral Camel Management Project was held in Alice Springs on 8 and 9 November. With expert representation from government, community and industry organisations, the Steering Committee advises NOL on a range of issues such as strategic directions for the Project, including coordination with the National Feral Camel Action Plan, review of Annual Operating Plans (AOPs), as recommended by the National Operations Group and provision of recommendations on these Plans.
AFCMP Newsletter - October 2010
$20,000 strategic boost
Following a successful industry and landholder forum in Alice Springs on 11-12 August 2010, Ninti One Ltd is providing $20,000 to the Australian Camel Industry Association for the development of a strategic plan to establish a strong and viable industry. With around 1.2 million feral camels and an annual damage bill of over $10 million, this support is for industry development that is largely based on feral camels transitioning to a farmed camel industry in the longer term. Commercial use of feral camels can be a viable form of short-term feral camel management where it is cost-effective, provides adequate reduction of feral camel impacts and provides much-needed employment and economic activity in remote Australia.
Saving sanctuaries from camels
Saving sanctuaries from camels
The Australian Wildlife Conservancy has brought in camel control programs at both Newhaven and Kalamurina Sanctuaries – and in 2009 removed over 600 feral camels. Control measures are particularly important this year, following the first significant rains at Kalamurina since AWC purchased the property. For a week in mid May, a team from the SA government (funded through the NRM Board and by the Federal Government’s Caring for Our Country Program) was based at Kalamurina. The team worked closely with AWC sanctuary staff and carried out aerial control operations across Kalamurina, adjacent pastoral properties and the Simpson Desert conservation parks. Following a strict code of practice, over 170 camels were removed from Kalamurina, with many more removed from adjacent protected areas.
$10m camel costs
The economic cost of feral camels has been put at over $10 million per year:
- $5.51 million per year in damage to infrastructure, property, and people
- damage to pastoral lands (fences, yards, and water troughs)
- damage to government agency and remote settlement infrastructure (buildings, fixtures, fences and bores), and
- damage to individuals mainly from vehicular collisions.
- $2.35 million per year in direct control and management costs, and
- $3.42 million per year in impacts on livestock production through competition with stock for food and other resources.
In addition, camels emit methane as a result of fermentation in the rumen at a rate of around 0.97 tonnes CO2 equivalents per annum. Source: http://www.feralcamels.com.au/faq