The other day I heard, through an off-the-record but reputable source, that feral camels in the far west of the state are getting ready to suck down on their humps.
The dromedary camel evolved to withstand desert conditions by storing fat in its hump. (It’s fat in their humps, not water, as was commonly thought.) They store up in good times and draw down in bad. Apparently their humps, normally hard, are now going soft and droopy as the fat begins to liquefy, ready to enter the bloodstream.
At the moment, the drought in western New South Wales and Queensland is causing mass starvation in native animals, farm stock and ferals alike. Kangaroos generally die in the shade, so their bones begin to appear under trees and shrubs. I remember looking at kangaroo bones under just about every shrub on a trip to the Mutawintji National Park near Broken Hill in 2003.
In outback towns kangaroos are dying in the shade under buildings. Over the past week the ABC has reported on Queensland council workers having to removing carcasses or euthanase animals on their last legs.
Drought is a feature of the Australian landscape that has been with us for millennia, but a new report from the Climate Council warns that climate change is now driving an increase in the intensity and frequency of hot days and heatwaves in Australia, in turn increasing the severity of droughts.
The report, Thirsty Country: Climate Change and Drought in Australia, released last week by Professor Will Steffen of the Australian National University, explains that a shift in rainfall patterns is linked to the southward shift of the fronts from the Southern Ocean that bring rain across southern Australia during the winter and spring.
In other words, the rain is “going south”, shifting off the bottom of the continent.
This, in turn, is being driven by the warming global temperatures caused in large part by human activities that increase the percentage of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
That’s the big picture; but for me it’s in the details that the story becomes more real. Camels are a declared feral pest; kangaroos are not; livestock makes a living for its owners; everyone’s out there in the environment trying to do their thing. But the rules are changing for all of us. We need to adapt to climate change, and we need to try to slow it down.
Tracy Sorensen is a member of Bathurst Community Climate Action Network. Check www.bccan.org.au.