Australia's fledgling camel industry has received a government grant to capitalize on growing international demand for the animals' meat and milk. The animals were brought to the country by early settlers but their numbers have soared since they were released into the wild, and some Australians consider them pests.

More than a million camels roam Australia's vast interior. These hardy animals are among the country's most destructive feral pests and marksmen have begun the task of culling hundreds of thousands of them.

Meat companies, however, say a more productive way to reduce camel numbers is to export them as a business, rather than simply shoot them and leave their bodies to rot.

The government has given Australia's camel industry an $18,000 development grant to help it tap into markets in the Middle East as well in Malaysia and Thailand. Meat industry groups say much more generous state support is needed if the trade in camel products is to reach its full potential.  

Paddy McHugh, who runs an export company in Queensland, says the opportunities for growth are enormous.

"Now, the main product is meat for human consumption," McHugh said. "Then another big industry evolving is the milk, which is huge and the ramifications for milk as a health food are phenomenal. So, a lot of research needs to be done into that. But we have also had other inquiries for the hump fat, for urine, for camel teeth to Japan. It just goes on and on, you know. It is such a big, potential commercial industry for Australia. We need to explore all avenues."

Camel meat is promoted as a low cholesterol alternative to beef. Exporters say the urine is sometimes used in hair and skin products. In some countries, such as Kenya, camel hides are used in making women's handbags and other leather goods.

More than half of Australia's camel population lives on Aboriginal land. Some Aboriginal groups hope a bigger camel exports would also benefit remote indigenous communities.

Camels were introduced into Australia in the 1840s to help explorers conquer the continent's inhospitable terrain. The feral population is expected to double in the next decade.

They compete with livestock for food, trample vegetation and invade remote settlements in search of water. Many residents, especially ranchers, in the Australian Outback endorse the government cull, but some animal protection groups call it cruel.