Camels enlisted to battle an invasive species
They may be known for their surly dispositions, but camels are more than happy to eat tamarisk, one the West's most destructive and invasive plants.
Fri, Jan 22 2010 at 6:45 PM
CAMELSCAPING: It's estimated that 10 camels could destroy half an acre of tamarisk in two days. (Photo: Victoria Reay/Flickr)
Tamarisk is one hard-to-kill invasive plant. Since it was first introduced from Eurasia to the United States in the 1800s, it has spread through the West like wildfire — actually, faster than wildfire. Efforts to eradicate it by burning it, cutting it, or dowsing it in herbicides have all failed. But tamarisk does have one formidable foe: hungry camels.
Known for their stubborn personalities, humpy postures and ability to survive for weeks without water, camels and dromedaries also have a keen appetite for salty fare — and tamarisk is as salty as they come. That's why ranchers in Colorado have enlisted the inglorious beasts to eat their way through this invasive species, eradicating it once and for all, according to High Country News.
"They will eat all day if given the opportunity," says Maggie Repp, a camel rancher in Loma, Colo. "My camels have killed every tamarisk on our place, so why not give it a whirl?"
A drooling dromedary may not strike you as a potential landscaper, but they do a good job. Repp says 10 camels can destroy half an acre of tamarisk in two days. That's not necessarily a solution for clearing the pesky shrub from the whole expanse of the Great Plains, but it's the perfect remedy for removing the odd tamarisk patch from your pasture.
One of the reasons tamarisk is so dangerous is its high salt content. Wherever tamarisk grows, the surrounding soil gets laced with a salty layer, making it tougher for native flora to grow. And that's not all. Discover Moab (via BigGreenBoulder) points out a litany of negative effects the invasive species has on local environments:
- narrowing and channelizing streams and rivers;
- displacing native vegetation such as cottonwoods, willows and adjacent dryland plant communities;
- providing poor habitat for livestock, wild animals and birds: the foliage and flowers of tamarisk provide little food value for native wildlife species that depend on nutrient-rich native plant resources;
- increasing wildfire hazards;
- limiting human and animal use of the waterways
But tamarisk is basically comfort food for salt-loving camelids. Currently the only other solution to tamarisk is another hungry species: leaf-eating beetles. Swarms of the creepy-crawlies have been released to battle the invasive species across the West.
For the bug-a-phobic smallscale farmer, though, renting a few camels may be a more practical solution.
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