CANBERRA - Feral camels have given the tiny Outback hamlet of Docker River the hump.
Known locally by the Anangu name of Kaltukatjara, the township nestling at the western foot of the Petermann Ranges, connected to the rest of the world by a long dirt road, has been invaded by 6000 rampaging beasts.
The have smashed water mains, damaged homes, buildings and the local airstrip - threatening emergency medical evacuations - and scared local residents from venturing outside.
"The community of Docker River is under siege," said the Northern Territory's Local Government Minister, Rob Knight.
"This is a dire situation which requires immediate action.
"These feral pests are putting community safety at risk, damaging properties and causing health issues by contaminating water.
"It's inappropriate that the safety of Territorians is being put at risk by these feral camels, which are preventing some locals from safely moving around the community."
Docker River is not the only community under threat.
Wild camels - descendants of animals imported to help open the Outback and connect east to west - have become a plague that now afflicts 3.3 million square kilometres of central Australia.
At least a million now roam the Simpson Desert and the vast region surrounding the confluence of the borders of the NT, Western Australia and South Australia.
They are doubling their numbers every nine years, growing by about 80,000 animals a year, devastating fragile desert ecosystems, scare water supplies, rare plants and animals, Aboriginal cultural resources, remote communities and pastoral stations.
"Because camels are cautious creatures and beautifully camouflaged, and because these areas are sparsely settled, most people are simply unaware of the sheer numbers of these introduced pests, or the extent of the damage they're causing," said Glenn Edwards, of the NT Department and Natural Resources and Environment.
Edwards was the lead author of a landmark study into feral camels by the Desert Knowledge Co-operative Research Centre, handed to federal and state governments last year.
The report found that camels were causing damage of about A$15 million ($18.4 million) a year to an area covering one-third of the continent.
This includes smashed pastoral water points, windmills and fences, and the draining of waterholes and wetlands that native birds and wildlife depend on for their survival.
The report said feral camels often invaded remote communities such as Docker River in search of feed and water, and devastated Aboriginal cultural plants, bush foods and medicines.
It said Aborigines were increasingly perturbed at the extent of camel damage to their country and cultural resources, fearful of personal danger, and wanting something to be done.
In Docker River the situation has become a crisis.
Sitting about 500km southwest of Alice Springs and sweltering in average summer temperatures of about 37C, the community of 300 people relies on water from three bores that are now under threat.
"I think the words 'under siege' are good because it talks about people being stuck in their homes and looking out and seeing just numbers of camels at your front door," McDonnell Shire chief executive Graham Taylor told ABC radio.
"And if they get anxious and stick their head through the window, I suppose then you've got another problem, so they're still chasing the water."
The council will be given A$49,000 by the NT Government to cull the herd milling through the streets of Docker River.
The federal Government in August also announced a A$19 million programme to control camels in central Australia.
"Camels are a big threat to native plants and animals and a big threat to cultural sites of significance to Aboriginal people as well," said Environment Minister Peter Garrett.By Greg Ansley Email Greg