Over 5,000 feral camels in drought-hit southern Australia were killed by helicopter-borne marksmen in a five-day operation ending Tuesday.
Large herds of non-native camels were reportedly driven towards rural communities due to drought and extreme heat. This led to a scarcity of food and drinking water and posed a threat to drivers on roads.
The culling took place in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands, one of the most arid and remote places on earth. It is home to about 2,300 indigenous people.
“We appreciate the concerns of animal rights activists, but there is significant misinformation about the realities of life for non-native feral animals, in what is among the most arid and remote places on earth,” APY General Manager Richard King said in a statement on Tuesday.
“As custodians of the land, we need to deal with an introduced pest in a way that protects valuable water supplies for communities and puts the lives of everyone, including our young children, the elderly, and native flora and fauna first,” King said.
He pointed out that weakened camels frequently became stuck and died in water holes, contaminating water sources needed by locals and native animals and birds.
“The prolonged dry period, while not difficult for native wildlife, leads to extreme distress for feral camels,” he added. Australia experienced its hottest and driest year on record in 2019, with severe droughts and deadly bushfires. Camels were first introduced to Australia in the 1840s with up to 20,000 imported from India.
Australia has the largest wild camel population in the world, estimated at more than a million.