Saudi camel enthusiasts have mounted a "massive" internet campaign calling on their wealthy countrymen to bring the Australian animals to the desert kingdom, according to a report yesterday.
The response followed the Australian Government's decision to kill 6,000 camels in the Northern Territory town of Dockwer River next week using marksmen firing from helicopters.
The rescue plan has been greeted enthusiastically in Saudi Arabia, with camel-raisers volunteering to take in the Australian animals. "I own more than 80 camels but I am quite willing to receive as many more from Australia," Salim al-Hajjaji said. He had grown up with camels, he told Arab News, an English-language Saudi daily. "I am now about 50 years old but I am as attached to camels as I was in my boyhood."
Saudi Arabia's rapid, oil-fuelled modernisation, which brought an extensive road network and pick-up trucks, has meant that the once-fabled camel caravans are a thing of the past, although the animal still provides transportation for some Bedouin in remote areas.
Today camels are valued for their milk and meat while camel races are extremely popular sporting events. Every year across the kingdom there are also "beauty" pageants - similar to cat and dog shows in the West - where winners can pick up huge cash prizes.
Australia's relationship with the animal could not be more different. The Government has committed $19 million to camel culling over four years. It is predicted that the million-strong population of wild camels will double in eight years if left unchecked.
The feral camels compete with sheep and cattle for food, crush vegetation and invade remote settlements in search of water, sometimes terrifying people by storming into houses and ripping up water pipes in kitchens and bathrooms.
They have also been branded big polluters, with a single camel allegedly emitting a tonne of carbon a year.
Camels were brought to Australia in the 19th century as pack animals that were well suited to opening up vast unexplored areas. When their work was done, the animals were simply let loose into Australia's deserts.
Khalifa al-Bigaili, a Saudi camel owner, urged Gulf businessmen this week to bring in the Australian animals to farm them for their milk. "We can buy them cheap or get them for free since Australians do not want them," he told Arab News.