IA camel caravan moves slowly but gracefully at a steady pace in the scorching desert heat. Unbroken sun above him, sand dunes behind him as far as the eye can see. When you think of camels, you usually have images like these from the Sahara in your head.
What most people don’t know: The largest population of wild camels in the world is not in Africa or the United Arab Emirates – but in Australia. And there are historical reasons for this, because when the unexplored continent was settled by Europeans, permanent and heat-resistant animals of burdock were in demand. On the other hand, today they serve more as a leisure activity.
“We’ve always had camels here,” says Shelley Lorenson. She is the president of the Boulia Camel Race, a camel race in the middle of the outback. The population of Boulia in Queensland is only around 300 to 400, but around 3,500 people bustle into July during race season. Many people come in caravans or sleep in tents to watch the camels race through the sands of the red desert.
The three-day extravaganza also features a lawnmower race, music, and fireworks. But camels are the main attraction, Lorensen says. Their nature makes races unpredictable: riders can neither control nor control animals: “You can train them, but a camel that wins all races one day can sit on the ground the next day.” could.”
Camels have been brought down from India, Afghanistan and the Arabian Peninsula since the 1840s. During colonization, they helped new people to explore the outback, transporting goods and people alike. Several major projects such as the Trans-Australian Railway and the Overland Telegraph Line were also implemented with the help of camels. In addition, settlements in the outback relied on “desert ships” as food was brought on camel’s back to even the most remote areas.
Duncan Pickering states that since the city’s founding in the 1880s, there have been camels in Silverton, on the border of New South Wales and South Australia. Together with his partner Petah Devine, he offers camel tours there. The couple dreamed of a self-sufficient life on a farm in the middle of the outback. The camels turned out to be a coincidence: “The family that offered us tours stopped by and gave us our first two animals in 2017,” Pickering told the German Press Agency.
13 camels now live in the field. Pickering’s charm about working with desert animals is his personality: “They’re all very personal, but very relatable at the same time.” But training new animals is a challenge: “You have to get to know their temperament first and treat each other warmly.”
an estimated 1.2 million animals
And yet: in Australia the impressive beasts of burdock have been considered a nuisance for some time. They were abandoned in the outback after the arrival of cars and other forms of transportation in the early 1900s that no longer needed transport. They have spread into the wild – a 2010 Environment Ministry report put their numbers at around one million. A report by an ABC station estimated 1.2 million animals in 2020 – but no one knows for sure.
Especially in dry, hot times, wild humpback animals often roam settlements in search of water. They tear down the fence and try to get condensation into the air conditioning system. The damage is often great – because of this, and to keep their breeding under control, Australia has shot camels regularly and in large numbers. Local governments and landlords hire snipers for this and sometimes helicopters are used. Australia’s Wild Camel Action Plan emphasizes that killing should be as quick and painless as possible.
save and use camels
It is also estimated that 3,600 to 4,000 camels are killed every year to make animal feed from their meat. Another 400 animals are used for live export and 1000 for human consumption.
“Our main concern is to save the camels as well as use them for their products,” says Paul Martin, who founded the company “Summer Land Camels” in 2015. His 800-acre farm in Harrisville, Queensland is home to 400 to 500 camels that were caught in the outback and then named by Martin and his team. In addition to a sunrise ride and a cocktail evening with camels, visitors can try camel milk cheese and ice cream or “camelcino” at the Farm Café. The aroma is slightly sweet, and camel milk contains a lot of vitamin C and iron.
Paul Martin also says of the many health benefits: “Camel milk does not freeze in the stomach and therefore does not elicit an inflammatory response like other types of milk.” For this reason, people with lactose intolerance can also drink milk.
He says that the demand for camel products is gradually increasing. In addition to dairy products, Summer Land also sells Camels hand cream, body lotion and the world’s first camel vodka. In some Asian countries you can already buy products online. “We are currently working on the EU strategy,” says Martin. Maybe Australian camel products will soon be available in Europe as well.