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Eric Shackle Writes: Too Many Camels

Australia is now suffering from a plague of wild camels. They are damaging water points, fences and buildings and causing havoc in remote aboriginal communities, as Eric Shackle reveals.

BHP-Billiton, the world's largest diversified resources company, thinks it has the answer: let's eat them.

To enjoy a large collection of Eric's entertaining and often astonishing stories please visit his world-famous e-book www.bdb.co.za/shackle/

Can you guess which country is home to an estimated million camels? If you thought it would be Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, China or Mongolia (the Gobi Desert), you'd be wrong.

The correct answer is Australia, where wild camels have multiplied to reach plague numbers. They damage water points, fences and buildings, causing havoc in remote aboriginal communities.

Many of the marauders are thought to be descended from Harry, a huge bull imported from the Canary Islands in 1840. In later years, hundreds of camels were tamed, and used as beasts of burden. They've carried explorers, workers and tourists thousands of miles through Australia's vast Red Center. The animals are multiplying so rapidly that unless drastic action is taken, there could be four to five million in the central Australian regions in less than a generation, according to South Australian ecologist Phil Gee.

BHP-Billiton, the world's largest diversified resources company, thinks it has the answer: let's eat them. The company wants to round them up, slaughter them, and market their red meat (which is said to taste like beef) for human consumption in Australia and overseas.

"The mining giant is running a pastoral trial involving 300 camels to see if there's a possibility of one day turning these beasts of burden into burgers, sausages and steaks," ABC reporter Mark Willacy told listeners last month.

Another company in the Northern Territory already sells canned camel meat as dog food. We're told dogs devour it with gusto (don't ask where can you buy Gusto). Wayne Ford, of Howard Springs Pet Food, said thousands of wild camels would be killed this year to feed northern Australia's dogs, cats and even crocodiles.

Willacy was a little critical about camels. " They're ugly, ungainly, and they sound like a flushing toilet," he said. Someone else once famously described a camel as "a horse designed by a committee."

Californian author of children's books, Marisa Montes, a dedicated animal lover, has set up an attractive website called All About Camels. "I can't believe that after thousands of years of being abused as beasts of burden, now the poor camels are being slaughtered for food!" she told us by email. "It's as bad as selling and eating horse meat in France."

We share your sentiments, Marisa, But slaughtering camels and horses is no worse than killing sheep and lambs, cows and calves, or even gentle, playful rabbits, to provide proteins for us omnivorous humans.

George Bernard Shaw stopped eating meat when we was 25. He once wrote: "My hearse will be followed not by mourning coaches but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures."

Now we can add camels to that list.

Jane Wooldridge, an American travel writer, has mixed feelings about camels. She has just written an amusing account of her adventures for the Chicago Tribune......

STUARTS WELL, Australia -- Let's get this out of the way right now: Camels do not stink. They don't spit either -- at least not the ones I know. And I know a few ... almost a dozen of 'em, in fact. Spent three days with them -- three close-contact days -- in Australia's Outback...

What it doesn't have is tents. In Australia, camping means sleeping in a swag (remember the swagman in "Matilda"?) -- a giant bedroll set out under the stars. Literally. Despite the rocky ground, the swag proves remarkably warm and comfy.

Her story ended with this footnote:

Camel racing is a serious betting sport in the Outback. The exception is the popular Alice Springs Camel Cup each July, a charity event that draws thousands of visitors. The next cup is July 14, 2007.

It's to be hoped no one eats the favourite before then.


Feral camels raise private interests http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2006/s1913545.htm

Push for camel meat exports http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2007/s1914196.htm

Getting over the hump on an Outback camel trek Chicago Tribune (registration required) http://www.chicagotribune.com/travel/chi-0704250631apr29,0,7949028.story?coll=chi-travel-hed

All About Camels http://www.marisamontes.com/all_about_camels.htm

The life and and whisky soup of George Bernard Shaw http://www.soupsong.com/zjul05.html


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