One of the most common negative comments we receive is that camel milk is for camel babies and taking the milk to make cosmetic and treatment products is somehow wrong. We are apparently exploiting a defenceless animal for unethical purposes. We think there are a lot of misconceptions in that view and, on this page, we explain why.
We appreciate that this is an emotive and sometimes divisive issue, but our commitment is clear. We will only work with farms that love their camels and have the highest standards of animal husbandry.
Australia has the world’s largest population of feral camels, but how did this come to be? Drive the Stuart Highway and you will surely come across camels; you won’t be hallucinating; camels may be about as Australian as polar bears, but there are perhaps upwards of a million feral camels wandering outback Australia.
The government-supported program that monitors invasive feral species Feral Scan estimates the current feral camel population to be between one and 1.2 million, with this amount reportedly doubling within ten years. The Federal Government places the number nearer 450,000, but the truth is nobody really knows; there are an awful lot of feral camels out there.
So why do we have so many non-native animals here?
As early as 1822, the geographer Conrad Malte-Brun suggested bringing camels to Australia to explore beyond the coastal fringe. The first camel arrived from the Canary Islands in 1840, but it wasn’t until the Burke and Wills expedition of 1860 that camels really took off. The impact made by camels and their handlers was considerable. In her co-authored book Australia’s Muslim Cameleers: Pioneers of the Inland, 1860s-1930s, Anna Kenny recognises the significant cultural and economic contributions that cameleers and their camels made to Australian society. “The cameleers opened lines of supply, transport and communication between isolated settlements, making the economic development of arid Australia possible. They also enriched the cultural landscape.”
To get an idea of the scale of the camel business, between 1870 and 1920, as many as 20,000 camels were imported into Australia from the Arabian Peninsula, India and Afghanistan. Alongside them came at least 2,000 handlers, or cameleers, from the same regions. Camel studs were established to grow a domestic herd; by some estimates put the working camel population at 150,000 in 1920.
The camels were mainly dromedaries; single hump camels perfectly adapted to living in low and arid conditions. They were ideally suited to the climate of the Australian interior: they could go weeks without water, and they had the stamina and strength to carry their loads and riders across what were often highly exposed, fiercely hot landscapes.
For half a century, camels were a fixture of outback life carrying wool, water, telegraph poles and railway sleepers, tea and tobacco. Aboriginals embraced the camel and incorporated camel hair into their artefacts. But progress brought better stock routes, railways and trucks arrived and the camels became less and less necessary as pack animals.
The working camel’s last hurrah was maintaining the Rabbit Proof Fence on the Western Australian border. As camels became redundant, thousands were simply released into the bush. Of course, they thrived.
All is not well with Australia's camels. We have a serious feral camel problem that has yet to be solved. Grazing camels have a profound bearing on indigenous wildlife, stripping vegetation and destroying water holes. They do immense damage to outback communities, wrecking water storage tanks and pipelines. Simon Reeve, the TV explored describes Australian camels as “almost uniquely brilliant at surviving the conditions in the outback. Introducing them was short-term genius and long-term disaster.”
The Federal Government has attempted to manage the camel population. From 2009-13, some 160,000 camels were culled, mostly shot from a helicopter and left to die. The most recent cull took place only two years ago. This blunt and brutal approach was rightly heavily criticised, but the answers aren’t simple.
So maybe we should contemplate how we might humanely solve the problems that feral camels bring. Here at CameLife, we believe that there are ways to manage Australia’s camel population. Dairying is undoubtedly one, but so too is a camel meat industry. The health benefits of camel milk are proven and, if camel milk is to be the next superfood, Australia really should be the centre of a global camel dairying industry. This will take more than the efforts of a few isolated camel dairying entrepreneurs; it needs big investment into the logistics to get the retail price to a competitive level.
Meantime, as a cosmetics manufacturer, we are a tiny user of camel milk. But producing high added value products from camel milk gives us space to promote the wider benefits of camel milk without the pressures of primary production.
Camels are highly intelligent animals with a distinct herd structure and culture. They cannot be milked in the way that cows are milked as the female will only produce milk when she has a calf. Once the calf has weened, the mother moves to the juvenile herd and lives with her calf until it is near adult. She won't produce milk again until she has another calf.
Secondly, the mother will only let down milk when her calf is ready to feed. The calf has to latch on to release milk; only then can milk be taken for human use. The calf will always get its feed; the mother is simply making more milk.
Camels develop close relationships with their handlers and happily go with their calves to be milked. It's an altogether very different relationship between cameleer and camel to that between an industrial cows milk farmer and his cattle. Even the biggest dairies in the Middle East have this close relationship.
This film from the Northern Territory Government gives a good idea of the scale of the feral camel problem and the brutality of its management. We're proud to play a small part in helping these magnificent animals by raising awareness of their plight, educating people about the health benefits of camel milk and camel milk skincare and by confronting the ethical issues surrounding camel dairying.