Groups of wild camels like this between Giles Meteorological Station and Wingellina, close to the Surveyor General’s Corner on the WA/South Australia/Northern Territory border, could be located for culling by Judas camels wearing a transmitter collar, a Murdoch University trial has found.JUDAS camels wearing location-transmitting collars have been successfully used to betray the whereabouts of herds of wild camels in a university trial of a possible practical means of controlling the outback pest.
Using DNA profiling from samples collected from 1050 camels, Murdoch University researchers have established that wandering herds of wild camels are social-interactive groupings, not necessarily based on genetically-related family members as previously thought.
This led researchers to believe that the Judas technique used with feral goats and other gregarious invasive pests, might be a useful tool in locating wild dromedary camels.
About 1 million wild camels are believed to live in remote arid areas of central Australia and are considered a threat to biodiversity, agriculture and biosecurity.
They roam over about 37 per cent of the country.
The Judas technique theory was proven after 10 camels were fitted with transmitter collars and tracked for periods of time over two years as they joined other wild camels.
On 96 per cent of the occasions the collared camels were tracked and located, they were found with other camels.
Researchers believe the Judas camels could overcome the main problem in attempting a wild camel cull – finding them.
The camels are descendants of those brought to Australia from Afghanistan, India and Arabia in the second half of the 19th century for regional transport and construction work.
They range over wide areas and retreat to isolated regions in good seasons, where their numbers build up.
They become a particular pest in the pastoral regions of WA and South Australia during drought when thirst drives them into inhabited areas where they push through fences and damage stock water supply infrastructure.
Research leader Peter Spencer, associate professor at Murdoch University’s School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, said an understanding of the social structure of wild camels was an important aspect of an effective management program.
“The Judas technique relies upon the target species exhibiting sufficient flexibility in their social structure for monitored individuals to detect and be accepted by multiple animal cohorts,” Dr Spencer said.
“A single tracked individual does all the hard work by finding other groups of camels that would normally be very difficult to locate.
“The technique is particularly effective when pest animals are found at medium to low densities or are widely dispersed in remote areas.”
He said the collared camel continued to prove useful after a localised cull had eradicated the group of wild camels it was with because it moved on to find and join other herds.
However, Dr Spencer admitted that it was still an expensive exercise to track and cull wild camels and he recommended the Judas technique be used in conjunction with other control methods.
The Murdoch research was published in the Journal of Wildlife Management.
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