More Mammals

I thought I'd put up some more pictures of non-native mammals instead of finally getting to the dragons themselves. I think about dragons all day. Why not spend a little time with something much bigger, smellier, dirtier, and more generally offputting?  Not to mention more dangerous.

My first day in the field last year, we arrived at Henbury Station and, as part of our orientation, we got a lecture on safety. As we always do. I was expecting the usual: heat, water, snakes, getting lost, heat. Instead, the first thing I was told: "watch out for camels."  What? Camels? They're big, ugly and have a reputation for spitting on you (that guy totally deserved it), but aren't they also supposed to be man's friend, carrying our water through the desert? 

A herd of feral Australian camels. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

Apparently not. Camels can be pretty dangerous (here's one trying, with adorable results) and have quite the reputation in central Australia. In the spring, the time of year when we were in the field, male camels gather together a group of female camels. They guard their harem not only from other camels, but also from other large, intrusive creatures like humans. A male camel is a huge, powerful animal and getting stomped on by one would not be a pleasant experience.

The male camel is the really big one to the left. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

I only encountered a herd of camels once while I was on foot. They were quite impressive. Perspective can be misleading. Looking at those animals while standing on the ground I realized they were a lot bigger, and I a lot smaller, than I thought when watching them from the safety (and elevation) of the Landcruiser. Also, they must only use smaller females for camels rides, because that male was HUGE. Or maybe feral camels in Australia are like feral cats. Fortunately these camels weren't too interested in me. Not that I gave them much of a chance. I headed away from the flat ground and vegetation into the rocky hills. I don't think camels like hills.

IT'S LOOKING RIGHT AT YOU. Tempe Downs Aboriginal Land, Northern Territory, 2012. 

Camels are also a massive nuisance to cattle ranchers. They compete with the cattle for scarce resources and harass the cattle during the breeding season. Though they're worth money, they're apparently very difficult to muster. One eight-year-old daughter of a station owner matter-of-factly explained "it's the dumbest thing my dad ever decided to do." So most ranchers choose to have camels on their lands end up like this: 

One of my field sites turned out to be a creepy camel graveyard. We counted seven skeletons. Note the bullet hole at the back of the skull. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

Both brumbies and feral camels are pretty rare on our field trips. We didn't encounter any in 2011 and only a handful in 2012. Ironically, I have only one single lonesome picture of the most commonly seen mammal on our trips. Probably because we don't think to take pictures of commonplace things, even when they are photogenic. Here is that poor, lonely picture:

Cattle, the most abundant outback mammal. Mulga Park Station, Northern Territory, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.

I do have a few pretty good pictures from Angus of our second most commonly sighted mammal, courtesy of a sunrise drive through a large herd:

Sheep! Yardea Station, South Australia, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy

Sunrise through the sheep. Yardea Station, South Australia, 2012. Photo by Angus Kennedy.