Australian drought drives camels to overrun town

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Audio Transcript:

MARCO WERMAN: Picture the scene. There you are, minding your own business in a tiny town in northern Australia and suddenly you find yourself under siege from thousands of marauding camels. Welcome to the real life situation that confronts the people of Docker River in Australia's Northern Territory. Docker River is home to about three hundred fifty humans and now about six thousand camels. Civic leader Graham Taylor says the result has been chaos.

GRAHAM TAYLOR: All of the supplies have been broke and damaged. Sewers underneath the ground are getting trampled and crushed. The airport is actually virtually unusable.

WERMAN: And even beyond Docker River, the camel problem is getting worse, so says Adrienne Francis of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

ADRIENNE FRANCIS: At the moment, the population's doubling every seven years and we've got an estimated population of 1.5 million of these feral camels across northern Australia.

WERMAN: All those camels are looking for something to drink. The drought has made water scarce so the thirsty camels head into populated areas, such as Docker River. But hold on, all this raises kind of an obvious question, what are camels doing in Australia in the first place? Journalist Adrienne Francis has the answer.

FRANCIS: They arrived here actually with the pioneering explorers' broken wheels in the 1860's and then the pioneering Afghan cameleers, about 3,000 of them, brought the camels to provide transport through this remote, harsh, arid landscape. They helped lug the overland telegraph polls and also some of the slathers for the railways and since that time, their numbers have just continued to grow and grow. It is extremely remote country so it's a little bit out of sight, out of mind.

WERMAN: Well, in Docker River at least, camels are neither out of sight, nor out of mind and state government's spokesman Rob Knight says authorities have authorized a cull of the animals.

ROB KNIGHT: We'll be pushing them out 15 kilometers and shooting them and letting them decay into the desert.

WERMAN: Animal rights campaigners say using helicopters to round up the camels and shooting them by the thousands is barbaric. Still, Docker River's human residents say they are determined to get their town back.