Dec 9, 2008

Lifestyle - Eat camels to protect environment, Aussies told

SYDNEY (AFP) – Australians were urged Tuesday to eat camels to stop them wreaking environmental havoc, just months after being told to save the world from climate change by consuming kangaroos.

A three-year study has found that Australia's population of more than a million feral camels -- the largest wild herd on earth -- is out of control and damaging fragile desert ecosystems and water sources.

The Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre, which produced the report, plans to serve camel meat at a barbecue for senior public servants in Canberra on Wednesday to press its point.

Report co-author Professor Murray McGregor said a good way to bring down the number of camels was to eat them.

"Eat a camel today, I've done it," he told the national AAP news agency.

"It's beautiful meat. It's a bit like beef. It's as lean as lean, it's an excellent health food."

Similar claims are made for kangaroo meat, but the rationale for farming and eating the national emblem -- as outlined by the government's chief climate change adviser in October -- is different.

Millions of farm animals such as cows and sheep produce massive amounts of harmful greenhouse gases, said Professor Ross Garnaut, but kangaroos emit negligible amounts of methane.

Unlike the native kangaroo, camels were introduced into Australia as pack animals for the vast outback in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, but were released into the wild as rail and road travel became more widespread.

The country has wrestled for years with imported animals brought in as beasts of burden, food sources, for recreational hunting or, ironically, to control agricultural pests.

The Department of the Environment lists animals of "significant concern" as including feral camels, horses, donkeys, pigs, European wild rabbits, European red foxes, cats, goats and cane toads.

With few natural predators and vast sparsely populated areas in which to roam, the populations have soared, putting pressure on native species by preying on them, competing for food, destroying habitats and spreading disease.

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