Article Index

Camel train - Photo ©


  • From 1840 to 1907, up to 20,000 one-humped dromedary camels (Camelus dromedaries) were imported into Australia.
  • Camels were used for transport, exploration and in the goldfields—a male camel can carry up to 600 kilograms.
  • By 1930, camels had largely been replaced by motor and rail transport.
  • Some camels were destroyed, but most were simply released into the wild. Released camels thrived and bred prolifically in the dry remote areas of Australia.

Distribution and density

  • There may have been 800,000 camels in Australia before culling was introduced in 2009.
  • There are now about 300,000 camels due to culling and the effects of drought throughout central Australia in 2013.
  • Because of the large amount of damage they cause to pastoral infrastructure in Western Australia, feral camels are declared pests under the provisions of the Biosecurity Agriculture and Management Act 2007.
  • Western Australia is now home to the largest herd of feral camels in the world, with 45% of the nation's camels. Most camel herds are domesticated in other parts of the world.
  • In the Australian desert, camels may now out number red kangaroos by 100 to 1.
Figure 29 thumbnail

Camel density across Australia 2013
Larger map

Camel biology and ecology

  • Camels can survive without water for long periods, and survive extreme dehydration without serious effects.
  • A camel can go up to a week with little or no food and water, and can lose a quarter of its body weight without impairing normal functions.
  • Camels can travel up to 70 kilometres a day. They range freely and are not territorial.
  • Camel populations have relatively few diseases and no natural predators.
  • They rarely starve as they can feed on more than 80 per cent of the available plant species in most areas.
    • Camels can eat up to 3.5 kilograms of food a day.
    • They graze on low shrubs or vegetation up to 3.5 metres above the ground—a larger range than any other herbivore in Australia.
  • A thirsty camel can drink up to 200 litres of water in 3 minutes.
  • Camels can live for up to 50 years.
    • They actively breed for 30 years of their life.
    • Cows give birth to a single calf every 2 years.
  • Female camels, cows, live in groups of about 30 with their calves.
    • Female groups are temporarily herded by a male bull during mating season
    • Male camels usually live alone or in bachelor groups of about 20 bulls.
    • When water and food is scarce, herds can reach up to 400 individuals.
camels at Warburton Dept agriculture
Camels near Warburton - Photo © DAFWA


Wildlife and natural habitat

  • Camels pose a direct threat to areas of ecological significance, many of which are managed by the department.
  • Mobs of camels can quickly completely strip an area of vegetation by trampling and grazing.
  • They can drain or foul water points, affecting local wildlife that rely on these scarce desert water sources.

Damage to Aboriginal communities, cultural sites and rock holes

  • Camels can cause tremendous damage to Aboriginal ceremonial art and other cultural sites associated with rock holes by trampling and rolling.
  • Camels can overrun Aboriginal communities in their attempt to get to taps, wells and the water in air-conditioners.

Damage to pastoral infrastructure

  • Camels regularly move from undisturbed desert areas to pastoral leases during periods of drought in search of more permanent water, although they generally return to desert once conditions are favourable.
  • Camels can cause damage to stock fences for several hundred metres. They can also damage infrastructure at cattle watering points.

Potential hazard to remote motorists

  • Camels can pose a hazard on outback roads, which they use as paths to travel along.

mob of feral camels in central australia
Mob of feral camels in central Australia - Photo © NT government

Control Measures

  • Because Australia is the only country with a significant number of feral camels, there is relatively little research on controlling their numbers.
  • In 2010, the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council endorsed the National Feral Camel Action Plan 
  • The main control methods used currently are culling, and exclusion fencing for commercially or ecologically significant sites.
    • Camels are culled in remote areas by shooting from helicopters or from the ground.
    • These culls aim to reduce the density of camels especially in areas of high conservation value.
    • The highest standards of animal welfare are followed during the culling process. Controlling camel numbers also results in fewer camels dying cruelly from starvation, dehydration and trampling, particularly during drought.
  • Attempts to develop a feral camel live-export trade and a meat industry has not been commercially sustainable.

Aerial surveys

Aerial survey techniques were originally developed to monitor kangaroo and other wildlife populations in remote areas, but are now also used to monitor camel populations.

pdfA broad scale aerial survey of the feral camel population in the South Kimberley region 2009 364.53 KB
pdfA broad scale aerial survey of feral camel populations in the Great Victoria Desert 20081 MB
pdfFeral Camel Distribution and Abundance of the Warburton Central Ranges and Northern Great Victoria Desert 2007120.07 KB
pdfEvaluating the effectiveness of an operation to cull feral camels in the Western Little Sandy Desert 200739.01 KB
pdfAerial survey conducted from Telfer Mine site of the Rudall River National Park to assess feral camel densities 200677.38 KB
pdfCamel populations in central Western Australia determined from aerial surveys 2005370.36 KB
pdfProposal for a pilot broad-scale aerial camel survey – Gibson Desert 2005170.36 KB

Further information

Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions contact: Bruce Ward, Manjimup Research Centre