Camels get the hump…

Sorry. . .

Anyway, in Australia, over 6,000 wild camels, in a herd that increases pretty much daily, have laid siege to the town of Docker River, in the Northern Territory. They’ve trapped people in their homes for days on end, damaged property and water tanks, demolished fences, stripped the local vegetation, both wild and cultivated, and died in numbers sufficient to pollute the water supply. Ironic, as all this trouble is caused by the camels’ quest for water.

They have also occupied the local airfield, apparently preventing the medical evacuation of patients.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why they don’t just drink in the river, many rivers in Oz are, these days, rivers of sand, prone to flash-flooding if it rains, but with no permanent flow.

Let’s face it, this is no joke – 6,000+ thirsty, aggressive, almost 1-tonne, camels is a bloody dangerous situation, and it’s probably pure luck that no-one has yet been killed, or died as a result of their depredations and, while you can’t actually blame the camels, caught up in a drought that has rumbled on since 2003, it’s clearly a situation which can’t be allowed to continue.

The state government has authorised a cull, the plan being to use helicopters to herd the camels out into the desert, and there shoot them – leaving the carcases to rot. That will be one almighty stink.

A stink of another kind is being kicked up by Peta, in their usual fluffy-minded way (remember sea kittens?). They’re up in arms about the cull, claiming that more humane methods are available, like fencing. Ha!

Camels have already demolished the town’s fences, so what would Peta have them do? Do they want the whole town to become a fenced and gated community, besieged on all sides by pissed-off camels (there are over a million roaming Australia, and the population is capable of doubling every 9 years, apparently), in a scene straight out of Wyndham’s The day of the Triffids? That would mean every person entering or leaving would have to leave their vehicle to open and re-lock gates, and it won’t take the camels long to figure out that this is a weak spot – again, just like the triffids, in fact – and it wouldn’t be long before someone actually died as a result, trampled in the rush.

And what does Peta think the camels are going to be doing while the fence is being built? Going on their holidays, or standing politely by, smoking a fag and watching the construction through a hole in the hoarding? Nope, they’ll besiege the construction sites as well as the town, and the fence would never get built.

Really, distasteful and deeply unpleasant as it is, a cull is the only permanent answer. They’re clearly not going to go away voluntarily, and you can’t reason with wild animals (sorry, Peta, you really can’t). Driving them off with copters won’t help, either – they’d simply come back, or transfer their attentions to another township. If they were dingoes, with their baby-killing rep, I doubt Peta would be up in arms. But these aren’t the scruffy, grumbling, put-upon beasts that take tourists too idle to walk out to the Pyramids, in Egypt, these are wild beasts, every bit as dangerous, in their way, as the polar bears that behave in much the same way in arctic Canada, invading towns in the winter while they wait for the ice to form.

Peta has, presumably, seen these bears tranked and taken off into the wilderness, out of harm’s way, hence their objection to a cull, but that’s just a relatively few bears – not 6,000 or more of the buggers! If there were that many bears* harassing, say, the township of Churchill, on Hudson Bay – main industry, bear-watching – they’d be culled too, no matter how endangered they are. People, as Peta tends to ignore, come first in a situation like this.

*Yes, I do know it’s not possible, it’s just an example.

On a much larger scale it’s like me and spiders. I’m a fully paid-up arachnophobe, but I can tolerate spiders outdoors, where they belong. If they invade my home, though, they die. If I lived in Docker River, I would, likewise, have no compunction about shooting camels which have become too dangerous to tolerate.

So the cull will go ahead and, yes, there will be suffering, sadly unavoidably as the plan is to shoot them from helicopters, yet the alternative – putting marksmen on the ground – could see them trampled to a greasy smear, should the herd stampede. Over 6,000 tonnes of angry camel on the hoof is best avoided.  A compromise would be to put armed men on the ground after the shooting, to put down any injured beasts. In fact, I really don’t think it would be acceptable NOT to do that. It’s one of the most fundamental tenets of hunting – you NEVER leave an injured beast to suffer, no matter what the inconvenience.

The cull is necessary and, at the same time, deplorable. But I really don’t think that there is a viable, humane, alternative (the national government has been kicking the camel problem around for a while and come up with nothing more effective than a massive cull, while animal welfare activists prefer contraception – gonna be a bugger to get them to use condoms, or take their pills, though!**). Fencing communities really is a daft idea, and the only long-term solution is a cull, possibly a massive one.

** What is it with these people? They almost invariably come up with unworkable and/or massively expensive schemes like that and, yes, I know I was being a smart-arse, but how the hell do you impose contraception – affordably – on wild animals the size of camels? They’re not like dingoes, where you could lace bait with contraceptive chemicals though, of course, that would have to be repeated more or less ad infinitum.

The camels, it’s worth pointing out, are, like rabbits, purely the result of human folly. Used during the exploration of Australia, they were turned loose in the bush once their usefulness had run its course, in the anticipation that they would obligingly die. However, beasts that had been chosen for their ability to withstand the incredibly harsh conditions in the heart of Oz, refused to co-operate and didn’t just survive, but thrived.

And it’s not just camels – kangaroos are at it too. Thirsty kangaroos invade outback town .

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