You are on page 1of 5


Managing feral camel impacts

The Karlamilyi National Park,
formerly known as the Rudall
River National Park, covers
close to 1.3 million hectares
of remote desert country in
the eastern Pilbara region
of Western Australia, a
landscape of red sand dunes,
stony hills, salt lakes and vast
spinifex plains.
This extraordinary National
Park is one of the largest
in the world.
The Rudall River National
Park was declared on
22 April 1977 and became the
Karlamilyi National Park
in mid-2008.
August 2012
The Rudall River is unique in the
region being a major ancient
watercourse, with reliable water
sources and permanent pools,
and one that starts and ends in
a desert. The Martu, who are the
traditional owners of this desert
region, belong to the Warnman,
Kartujarra, Manyjilyjarra and
Ngulipartu language groups. They
called the Rudall River Karlamilyi,
and today there are two main
Aboriginal communities at Punmu
near Lake Dora (Ngayarta Kujarra)
and the Parnngurr community at
Cotton Creek.
Impact of
feral camels
Over recent years, feral camel
densities in and around the
Karlamilyi National Park have
increased, leading to the need
to introduce control measures. A
broadscale aerial survey of 78,500
, including the entire Karlamilyi
National Park, was conducted by
the Western Australian Department
of Environment and Conservation
(DEC) in 2006 and estimated
the mean camel density at 0.26
camels per km
. These numbers
are signicant and demonstrate the
potential threat that feral camels
pose to conservation values in this
area, because research has shown
that once camel numbers exceed
more than 0.2 camels per km

major damage to vegetation can
occur (Dorges and Heucke 2003).
The survey information contributed
to a national 2008 feral camel
density map that has helped to
guide the Australian Feral Camel
Management Project.
I understand camel not belonging
to Australia. They are a good
animal but too many is too many,
and its hard to control and they
move all over the place. It upset
me and sometimes it makes me
sorry to do what were planning
to do but it is getting out of hand
now these days.Theyre breeding
more than the dogs I think.
Butler Landy, Senior Martu
traditional owner
The effect of grazing on arid and
semi-arid plant communities can
be signicant and large groups
of feral camels can completely
destroy an area of vegetation
by trampling and grazing. Feral
camels pose a direct threat to
areas of high conservation value
and can trash, deplete or foul
watering points. This can have a
signicant impact on other wildlife
that rely on these often sparse
water sources.
Feral camels damage cultural
sites and rockholes, Aboriginal
community and pastoral
production and infrastructure and
pose a potentially life-threatening
hazard to remote motorists and
On a recent return to country
trip the elders were horried
when they went back to discover
that these very, very signicant
waterholes were just trashed
too many camels. Far too many
camels for the country to be able
to sustain.
Peter See, Director Land
Programs, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa
Within the Karlamilyi National
Park, environmental monitoring
is proving to be invaluable in
assessing the impact of feral
camels on native vegetation and
water places and determining
the improvement when they
are removed. This work is being
conducted by Aboriginal rangers
from KJ with assistance from the
WA Department of Environment
and Conservation using methods
established through the Australian
Feral Camel Management Project.
Vegetation assessments are
being conducted within and
around the park and focus on
plant species that are known to
be preferred by camels including
Santalum lanceolatum (plum bush),
Codonocarpus continifolius (desert
poplar), Eremophylla longifolia
(emu bush), Acacia victoriae,
Acacia tetragonophylla and Acacia
Understanding the impact of
feral camels on water sources is
important due to the high reliance
of desert fauna on these water
sources, especially during the dry
season. Feral camel damage to
water places can include fouling
water through faecal and carcass
contamination. The disturbance
of soil and riparian vegetation can
also signicantly reduce the quality
of water available to native wildlife.
Physical and electronic analysis of
water sources is being undertaken
within and around Karlamilyi NP.
Scientic monitoring of
feral camel impacts vital
Managing feral
The Australian Feral Camel
Management Project has been
set up, with support from the
Australian Governments Caring for
our Country initiative, to reduce the
densities of feral camels in areas
of known high concentrations and
of high conservation value across
As can be seen in the 2011 map
of feral camel density (right), the
Pilbara is one of three regions
in Australia with higher feral
camel densities, and Karlamilyi
National Park is a priority asset
to be protected in this region.
Camels regularly move from desert
country to pastoral properties
during periods of drought in
search of more permanent water
and will generally move out into
undisturbed desert once conditions
are favourable. Satellite tracking
has shown that feral camels can
move large distances in a short
period of time and it is therefore
important to conduct management
over large areas and across all land
Under the Australian Feral Camel
Management Project, more than
18,000 feral camels have been
removed from the Pilbara Region
over the past three years, despite
the limitations posed by adverse
weather. With further removal
over the next year or so, we are
hopeful that this work will lead to
a reduced density of feral camels
in Karlamilyi National Park and an
associated reduction in damage.
Feral camel removal in the Pilbara
under the Australian Feral Camel
Management Project is currently
achieved through aerial culling
using accredited government
personnel operating against
a formal Standard Operating
Procedure to ensure humane
and safe operations. Landholder
agreement to undertake such work
is obtained before each operation
and landholders are debriefed at
the end of each operation.
The potential of commercial use
to assist feral camel removal in
the Pilbara was considered, but
the huge distances to the nearest
abattoir capable of processing
camels meant that this was not a
humane or commercially viable
You know its good if we can
highlight the damage feral camels
are doing and its not just to the
pastoralists, the pastoralists are
on the edge of it, its the impact
on the whole ecology out there
that we got to get people to
understand. Thats why we must
make such a ght to reduce the
Robin Mills, Pastoralist,
Warrawagine Station
Updated (2011) feral camel density map based on new aerial survey
information and extrapolation that assumes an average rate of
population growth of 8% per annum. Dotted blocks indicate aerial
survey areas at the date specied.
0 500 1,000km
A powerful
and modern
In 2009, with funding from the
Australian Governments Caring for
our Country initiative, Kanyirninpa
Jukurrpa (KJ) and other project
partners undertook a series of
consultations and discussions with
Martu about the impact of feral
camels on Martu priority species,
water sources and other cultural
The consultations brought together
the different perspectives and
understandings about feral camels
and reviewed the various options
for managing feral camels.
In late 2009, the Martu decided to
work with government to actively
manage the feral camels in far
away country where Martu were
unable to easily access.
Since then Martu, through KJ
and the Western Desert Lands
Aboriginal Corporation, have been
working with the Department
of Agriculture and Food WA
(DAFWA) and DEC to manage
feral camel densities, monitor their
impact on water sources and to
undertake research into camel
movements using collars able to be
tracked by satellites (as shown in
the image on the right).
Working in
The Australian Feral Camel
Management Project is a
national approach, which brings
together for the rst time all of
the relevant state and territory
governments (WA, NT, SA, Qld),
Aboriginal organisations across
the four jurisdictions (land trusts,
corporations and land councils),
NRM boards, conservation
groups, the pastoral industry and
commercial interests to protect
identied refuges for biodiversity
in northern and remote Australia
that are under threat from feral
camels. In Western Australia,
DAFWA is an active government
partner in the Project.
Tracking camels
Feral camels usually live in
extremely remote locations
and are often difcult to track.
Research being undertaken by
WA government departments
is building on our knowledge of
the impact of feral camels on the
ecosystems of Western Australias
arid areas.
Aerial survey techniques, which
were originally developed to
monitor kangaroo and other
wildlife populations in remote
areas, are now being used to
determine the density and
distribution of feral camels across
targeted areas.
In an aerial survey, an aircraft
with three observers ies in an
east-west grid pattern at a height
of 250 feet (76 metres) and a
ground speed of 100 knots (185
km/h). Strips 200 metres wide
are delineated by a rope attached
to wire struts on each side of the
aircraft. Animals sighted between
these rope markers are recorded
by the observers.
Aerial survey work has previously
been conducted by DEC in parts
of the Karlamilyi National Park to
provide a better understanding of
the density and distribution of feral
camels, their seasonal movements
and how they utilise the landscape.
Further aerial surveying of the
Karlamilyi National Park will be
undertaken under the Australian
Feral Camel Management Project
to assess the impact of the Project.