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Aboriginal officials in Australia recently approved the killing of potentially 10,000 camels, as a region battling scorching heat and a long drought deals with animals searching for water. 

Officials in the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands in northwest South Australia agreed to the “aerial cull” after listening to requests for help from residents who said they saw “extremely large groups of camels and other feral animals in and around communities” in the APY Lands. 

In a statement on Facebook, APY said camels and other feral – which essentially means wild, undomesticated animals – are searching for water in the region. But camels are the “primary” targets of the cull. APY held a board meeting on Dec. 11 to discuss the animals, and the cull was approved for Wednesday. It will last five days. 

“With the current ongoing dry conditions [and] the large camel congregations threatening the APY communities and infrastructure, immediate camel control is needed,” APY said on Facebook. 

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The APY Lands are a roughly 39,768-square-mile expanse “of arid land,” according to the APY website. The area is roughly “three times as big as England,” APY General Manager Richard King told USA TODAY in a phone interview. 

King said the camels are causing “devastation.” He said he’s preparing for about 10,000 camels and that 5,000 camels “are really putting pressure on at the moment.” 

“The number sounds big and the number is big,” he said. “But, in the grand scheme of things, the number represents about one percent of the feral population.” 

King called the cull a “last resort.” 

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“We just can’t, we can’t sustain the level that we’ve got out there without doing something drastic to give us some breathing space, really,” King said. 

He added, “Traditional animals – the kangaroos and wallabies and other quite endangered species – are being put under pressure by the significant numbers as they compete for food and water, and the county, really.”

Temperatures in the region have reached about 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), King said. 

“What [the camels] are doing is, they’re looking for moisture in the air wherever they can get it,” King said. “You’ve got traditional people living out there. Some of them have got air conditioners. Some of them have evaporative coolers. When the camels smell that, they push and push until they get to the source.”

A Department for Environment spokesperson told CBS News the camels have caused “significant damage to infrastructure, danger to families and communities” and that some of the camels have died of thirst or trampled each other trying to get to water. 

“In some cases, dead animals have contaminated important water sources and cultural sites,” the spokesperson told the outlet. 

There are an estimated 1 million feral camels in Australia with the population increasing at a rate of eight percent per year, PestSmart Connect, which provides information about invasive vertebrate pests in Australia, according to its website. 

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The organization also reports the aerial shooting of camels “from a helicopter is used for large scale population reductions in remote and/or inaccessible areas.”

King said officials have been moving camels for the last year and a half. 

“We have one facility that can take them,” he said. “They kill and export about 250 camels a week. We could export for the next 30 years and still not keep up with the birth rate. Camels are doubling every seven years. We’ve got 1 million today. In another seven years’ time, we’ll have 2 million. 

“Our country has really been devastated by this type of feral load. The reality is, we just need to move, and we need be aggressive.”

Read or Share this story: https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/01/07/10-000-thirsty-australian-feral-camels-could-killed-during-drought/2838234001/