But where exactly is their native range?
Where, as Ken Thompson writes, do camels belong?
The camel family (Camelids) evolved in North America 40 millions years ago and only much later spread to South America and to Asia. They survived in North America until they went extinct only 8,000 years ago. Should we then send the camels back to their evolutionary roots in the US? Or how about South America, which retains the highest diversity of camelids (e.g. llama)? Or we could sell them into 'slavery' in the Middle East. Alternatively we could ship them off to Mongolia to join what is left of their cousins, a tiny herd of critically endangered Bactrian camels (C. bactrianus)?
Our preference is to embrace our new ecology and rejoice that wild dromedaries have survived – wild and free – in the deserts of Australia.
Australia lost much of its megafauna during the Pleistocene (past 50,000 years). It is plausible that the camel is now assuming some of the missing ecological functions of these lost giants. Like all species, limiting population density can be the key difference between harm and asset. We are now testing whether providing protection for dingoes can help regulate camels.
How can a predator the size of a dingo possibly affect a herbivore the size of a camel? Apex predators affect their prey not only by killing them but also by scaring them away from certain areas. Dingoes are a threat to baby camels and so the mothers have to keep them safe from dingoes until they are large enough. And this can make all the difference.
By Arian Wallach