Australia Exporting Camels for Saudi Diners

ByABC News
June 13, 2002, 1:57 PM

June 17 -- From crocodile ranches to emu farms, Australia has a well-established reputation in raising exotic meats. Now it seems the Land Down Under is branching out into another market: camels.

And this month, the ranchers of Oz gained the most obvious, but perhaps unlikely of customers when they shipped 119 animals from the northern port city of Darwin to the desert kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Peter Seidel, the executive officer of the Central Australian Camel Association, told while camels still exist in Saudi Arabia, they are largely bred for racing.

The Saudi camels are the equivalent of thoroughbreds, he said, while the ones in Australia are like draft horses. Both countries' camels are the dromedary, one-humped camels. The Bactrian, or two-humped camels are found mostly in Central Asia.

But there's very little difference in the taste of the animals thoroughbred or draft, Bactrian or Dromedary, Seidel said. "It's all very much the same."

Camel Shortage in Saudi Arabia?

Shortly before he died in 1960, the famous English explorer St. John Philby predicted the camel would disappear from Arabia in 30 years.

He was laughed at then, but his prediction largely rings true today, as the desert nomads that once relied on the camels settled down, and replaced their animals with planes, trains and automobiles.

The camel has always been part of the traditional Muslim diet. Every year, hundreds of thousands of camels are slaughtered during the Muslim pilgrimage, or Hajj, in Mecca.

The Saudis traditionally imported camels from North Africa, but various factors, including disease, drought and political instability led them to look elsewhere.

Plus, Seidel said, Australia has the world's only remaining herds of wild camel. In the rest of the world, camels are domesticated and managed in private herds.

Australia's camels were brought over from Northern India in the 19th century for use in pioneering its arid back country, he said.