Can you guess which country is home to an estimated million camels? If you thought it would be Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Afghanistan, China or Mongolia (the Gobi Desert), you'd be wrong.
The correct answer is Australia, where wild camels have multiplied to reach plague numbers. They damage water points, fences and buildings, causing havoc in remote aboriginal communities.
Many of the marauders are thought to be descended from Harry, a huge bull imported from the Canary Islands in 1840. In later years, hundreds of camels were tamed, and used as beasts of burden. They've carried explorers, workers and tourists thousands of miles through Australia's vast Red Center. The animals are multiplying so rapidly that unless drastic action is taken, there could be four to five million in the central Australian regions in less than a generation, according to South Australian ecologist Phil Gee.
BHP-Billiton, the world's largest diversified resources company, thinks it has the answer: let's eat them. The company wants to round them up, slaughter them, and market their red meat (which is said to taste like beef) for human consumption in Australia and overseas.
"The mining giant is running a pastoral trial involving 300 camels to see if there's a possibility of one day turning these beasts of burden into burgers, sausages and steaks," ABC reporter Mark Willacy told listeners last month.
Another company in the Northern Territory already sells canned camel meat as dog food. We're told dogs devour it with gusto (don't ask where can you buy Gusto). Wayne Ford, of Howard Springs Pet Food, said thousands of wild camels would be killed this year to feed northern Australia's dogs, cats and even crocodiles.
Willacy was a little critical about camels. " They're ugly, ungainly, and they sound like a flushing toilet," he said. Someone else once famously described a camel as "a horse designed by a committee."
Californian author of children's books, Marisa Montes, a dedicated animal lover, has set up an attractive website called All About Camels. "I can't believe that after thousands of years of being abused as beasts of burden, now the poor camels are being slaughtered for food!" she told us by email. "It's as bad as selling and eating horse meat in France."
We share your sentiments, Marisa, But slaughtering camels and horses is no worse than killing sheep and lambs, cows and calves, or even gentle, playful rabbits, to provide proteins for us omnivorous humans.
George Bernard Shaw stopped eating meat when we was 25. He once wrote: "My hearse will be followed not by mourning coaches but by herds of oxen, sheep, swine, flocks of poultry and a small travelling aquarium of live fish, all wearing white scarves in honour of the man who perished rather than eat his fellow creatures."
Now we can add camels to that list.
Jane Wooldridge, an American travel writer, has mixed feelings about camels. She has just written an amusing account of her adventures for the Chicago Tribune......
Her story ended with this footnote:
It's to be hoped no one eats the favourite before then.