Authorities began a mass cull of camels in the state of South Australia on Thursday as the animals threaten water and food supplies for indigenous communities.
The five-day cull is taking place in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands — an area in the state of South Australia that is home to around 2,300 indigenous people.
An ongoing drought has forced “extremely large” herds of camels to search for food and water closer to rural towns, threatening local drinking water supplies and damaging infrastructure.
As a result, “up to 10,000 camels will be destroyed in accordance with the highest standards of animal welfare,” the APY Lands executive committee said in a statement.
The state’s environment department is assisting with the cull, which involves the use of “aerial shooters” or trained snipers in helicopters.
Some 1,500 camels were killed on the first day of the cull on Thursday, Richard King, the general manager for APY Lands, told news agency DPA.
Desperation amid drought
Extreme heat and an ongoing drought have exasperated the problem, with many dying of thirst or trampling each other to death in the rush to reach water.
“In some cases dead animals have contaminated important water sources and cultural sites,” a spokesperson for South Australia’s environment department said.
Australia experienced its warmest and driest year on record in 2019, the country’s weather bureau announced on Thursday.
The news also comes amid ongoing deadly bushfires in the country that have burned through millions of acres of land, damaged homes, and killed at least 27 people this season.
Camels are not native to Australia and have no natural predators. They were first brought to the continent in the mid-1800s to aid in exploration.
Australia is now believed to have the largest wild camel population in the world, with officials estimating up to 1 million camels are currently roaming the country’s inland deserts.