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Camels in the Outback

Can a Qatari former camel herder find an alternative to the mass killing of camels underway in Australia?
Last Modified: 02 Jan 2013 14:26

Camels were brought to Australia from Pakistan and India by the British to help with exploration and load-carrying in the mid-1800s.

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Given the Australian outback's vast, arid landscape, camels were the only animals strong enough for the job.

But by the early 1900s, there were trucks and trains to do this work, and camels were no longer useful. So the South Australian government ruled that they be destroyed.

This was unthinkable for the Asian camel herders. They disobeyed the order, and set the animals loose in the outback.

Today's Australian camels are the great, great grandchildren of the animals that helped explore and establish modern Australia. There are 1.2 million camels in the Australian outback – the largest wild camel population in the world.

"My goal was to give the audience a sense of involvement in the scene. I wanted them to feel like they were there with us.

The huge distances, and vast, uninhabited areas of the outback were definitely exhausting to travel through.

Filming the scene with the camels that had been shot dead is something I will never forget. The smell was unbearable, and we were covered in flies.

During the camel chase scene, I attempted to film while standing in the back of a jeep that was involved in the chase. In spite of all my precautions, I ended up with a fractured rib when the jeep bounced over some uneven ground. It's a souvenir I'll keep for a while.
"

- Fadi ElBenny, cameraman

The Australian government sees them as an environmental problem and pests to farmers. They say the camels compete with livestock, destroy property and raid small towns looking for water.

Culling camels

In 2009, the government put up AUD$19m ($19.7m) to cull almost one-third of them.

Over the last few years, private contractors and hunters have been shooting the camels from helicopters and leaving the carcasses to rot in the desert.

Some Australians oppose the cull, saying the government is wasting an opportunity to make use of a natural resource.

Qataris and other Arabs are horrified at the Youtube videos and photographs of the camel cull. For the Arabs, camels occupy an important place in culture, history and economics.

Al Jazeera World goes to Australia with Ali Sultan Al Hajri, a Qatari who grew up in the desert, illiterate and raising camels until he was 17.

Now a successful, self-made businessman in the country's capital, Doha, Ali still keeps a herd of camels, and knows each one of them by name, face and personality.

Ali travels to Australia with Al Jazeera producers Yasir Khan and Mansour Almansouri, and cameraman Fadi ElBenny, to witness the killings and to meet the people who support the camel cull and those who oppose it.

Al Hajri aims to find out if there is a better way to deal with an animal that he loves, rather than the current Australian government's policy of mass killing.

 
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