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German researchers trade camels for castle

Published on 08/04/2004

8 April 2004

SYDNEY – Close to 20 years ago Jurgen Heucke and Birgit Dorges began a new life that would make other German couples green with envy.

Their new home was just a converted removal van but their parking spot couldn’t have been bettered: a creek bed 350 kilometres north- west of that archetypal Outback town, Alice Springs.

The purpose of their relocation was to study the camels that roam the deserts of Australia’s red centre.

The continent’s first camels were brought from India and Palestine to work as pack animals in the 1840s. They are big camels, all of the one-hump variety. When trucks superseded camel trains in the 1920s the former beasts of burden were set free to fend for themselves as best they could. They thrived.

There are now an estimated 600,000 of them and they represent the largest wild herd anywhere in the world.

Heucke and Dorges are recognised as authorities on Australia’s camels. By fitting lead animals with radio collars they have mapped routes, gauged numbers and plotted the future for a species that in 160 years has gone from paragon to pest.

Camels eat endangered native vegetation, damage creek beds, and even, on occasions, frighten the tourists. There are just too many of them.

Heucke and Dorges, who later this year will be going home to their 12th Century castle in Lower Saxony, have laid out the blueprint for the farming of camels. They see domestication as the best way of dealing with the problems that super-abundance brings.

Camels, once confined to the deserts, are venturing on to farmland, raising cries of alarm and calls for a cull.

Based largely on the work of the German couple, camel farming is underway. Around 5,000 camels are exported each year, all of them ending up on dinner tables in the Middle East.

Peter Seidel, who heads the Central Australian Camel Industry Association, has paid tribute to the Germans, who he says will be sadly missed.

Heucke and Dorges are not leaving Australia out of nostalgia for the lifestyle back home. They say funding for their research has dried up. They don’t want to go, but they have to.


Subject: German News