Context . Helicopter shooting is a common and effective tool for reducing overabundant wildlife populations. However, there is little quantitative information on the humaneness of the method, leading to uncertainty in wildlife-management policy. There is, subsequently, a need for an improved understanding of the welfare implications of helicopter shooting.
Aim . A study was undertaken to infer the humaneness of helicopter shooting for a case study species, the feral dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius).
Methods . Seven post-mortem studies (n = 715) and one ante-mortem study (n = 192) were undertaken during routine helicopter shooting programs of free-ranging camels. In these studies, we measured four animal-welfare parameters to allow inference on the humaneness of the technique. These parameters were time to death, instantaneous death rate (proportion of animals for which time to death = 0), wounding rate and location of bullet-wound tract. We also modelled these welfare variables against hypothesised explanatory variables to assist improvement of future programs.
Key results . The mean wounding rate was 0.4%, and the killing efficacy of the technique was 99.6%. Mean time to death was 4 s, and mean instantaneous death rate was 83%. Each animal displayed a mean 2.4 bullet-wound tracts, with 75%, 63% and 35% of animals shot at least once in the thorax, cranium and cervical spine, respectively. Regression analysis revealed that the identity of the shooter and the nature of the local vegetation were the most important factors associated with an animal experiencing an inferred instantaneous death or not.
Conclusions . Helicopter shooting of feral camels produces a very low wounding rate and rapid time to death. Shooter identity is the most important consideration for determining animal-welfare outcomes. Improvements to the humaneness of programs can be made by increasing the rigour of shooter selection and training.
Implications . Wildlife killing methods must be demonstrated to be humane to receive public support; however, few shooting methods are objectively examined. Helicopter shooting can be independently examined and operators assessed. Adoption of this examination template may allow continual improvement by industry as well as increasing societal acceptance of helicopter shooting.