When South Australia Had Police Camels

It’s common to see police in cars, on motorcycles, on bicycles, and even on horseback, but when was the last time you saw a police officer on camelback? Camels were first used for police patrol in the early 19th century in South Australia because there was no other effective way to cover the vast central deserts. Camels outperformed horses in the harsh inland environment due to their ability to transverse the sparse and waterless terrain of outback Australia, and over time they affectionately became known as “ships of the desert.” The South Australia Police purchased 10 camels for use by mounted police in 1870, and by 1885 had increased the herd to 18 camels. Police officers found camels to be more suitable, safer, and less expensive than horses. The pack camels were able to average 20 miles a day, traveling six days a week. They especially appreciated the fact that the camels were good in hilly or stony country, didn’t require shoes like horses, and excelled in the sand hills. By the 1920s, following the introduction of the motor vehicle, many police officers began to use their own cars for police patrol work, for which they were paid a vehicle allowance. In 1953, the camel patrol was retired in favor of using cars for patrol.