Bactrian & Dromedary Camels
Camelus bactrianus, C. dromedarius, C. ferus
(minor update April 2013)
TAXONOMY & NOMENCLATURE
(Bulliet, 1990; Cui et al., 2007; FAO, 2008; Hare, 2008; Harper, 2012; Kohler-Rollefson, 1991;
Kadwell et al., 2001;
Gentry, 2004; ICZN, 2003; Marin et al., 2007; NCBI, 2012; Price, 2005)
Describer (Date): see below (after species name)
Order: Artiodactyla (a.k.a. Cetartiodactyla*)
(Linnaeus 1758) - domestic Bactrian camel Camelus bactrianus
Species: (Linnaeus 1758) - dromedary Camelus dromedarius
Species: (Prejevalsky [Przewalski] 1879) - wild Bactrian camel Camelus ferus
Species: Vicugna vicugna - vicuña
Species: Vicugna pacos - alpaca
Species: Lama glama - llama
Species: Lama guanacoe - guanaco
*New anatomical and DNA evidence on the relationship between Artiodactyla (even-toed ungulates) and Cetacea (whales and dolphins) recently led to a merging of the two orders into a new group, Cetartiodactyla (Montgelard, 1997; reviewed in Kulemzina, 2009). As of October 2012, experts had not agreed on whether to define Cetartiodactyla as an official taxonomic order that would replace Artiodactyla and Cetacea. Some continue to list camels in the order Artiodactyla (Franklin, 2011) or use the term Cetartiodactyla without defining it as an order (IUCN, 2008).
Taxonomic History and Nomenclature
Domestic Bactrian camel
First classified by Linnaeus as Camelus bactrianus in 1758
Typically wild animal named first, but Linnaeus only knew of domestic camels
Camel - Latin
camelus from Greek kamelos, from Hebrew or Phoenician gamal; perhaps related to Arabic jamala "to bear" (Harper, 2012) Bactrian - for Bactriana
region of ancient Persian Empire
(Franklin 2011; Bulliet, 1990)
bactriana from Persian bakhtar "the west" Camel caravans transported goods through this northwestern region of modern-day Afghanistan via major trade routes, including the Silk Road
First classified by Linnaeus as Camelus dromedarius in 1758 Common names
From Greek dromas "running" (Arabian camels were bred and trained for riding)
Early variant - drumbledairy (1560s) (Harper, 2012)
Wild Bactrian camel
Discovered by Przewalski in 1878, named
C . ferus confirmed in 2003 by International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature; recognized by the IUCN DNA analysis confirmed that
C. ferus should be considered a separate species from the domestic Bactrian camel (Silbermayr, 2009)
Previously, some considered it to be a sub-species,
C. bactrianus ferus (Grubb, 2005)
Camelidae family: origins
Camelids originated in North America during Eocene, 40-45 million years ago (Cui et al., 2007)
Appeared in middle Eocene in North American mountains/plains/deserts (Franklin, 2011)
Earliest camelids similar to modern guanaco but rabbit-sized (30 cm at shoulder) (Franklin, 2011)
One of most common ungulates in N. America by late Eocene and Oligocene (24-36 million years ago) (Franklin, 2011)
Camelid tribes: four emerged, two survived
Camelini and Lamini diverged about 11-25 million years ago
DNA evidence dates the split to 25 million years ago (Cui et al., 2007)
Fossil record dates the split to 11 million years ago (Webb 1974; Harrison 1979)
Only Camelini and Lamini tribes survived worldwide climactic changes at end of Miocene
Camelini (wild and domestic Bactrian camels and dromedaries)
Old World (Asia, Middle East, Arabia, North Africa)
Lamini (lamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos)
New World (South America)
Migration: two major waves (Webb, 1974)
About 3 million years ago (late Tertiary):
Camelini migrated across Bering land bridge into Asia
Across dry belt of Eurasia, into India
Lamini migrated to mountains of South America
Both tribes became extinct in North America
Modern camelid species
Unclear evolutionary relationship between C. bactrianus, C. dromedarius, and C. ferus DNA studies show wild Bactrian Camel not ancestor of two domesticated species as previously thought
C. ferus is separate lineage and not direct progenitor of C. bactrianus (Ji et al, 2009) Bactrian camels and dromedaries diverged about 5-8 million years ago (Cui et al., 2007; Franklin, 2011)
No evidence to indicate that Bactrian camels were ancestor of dromedaries (Kinne et al, 2010
exact dates not clear - some disagreement among the experts
D omesticated about 4,000-6,000 years ago Peters & von Driesch, 1997; reviewed in Groeneveld et al., 2010) in steppes of eastern central Asia (
Spread to Asia Minor ca. 4000 BC, Middle East ca. 2000 BC, China ca. 400 BC (Peters & von Driesch, 1997)
Currently 16 Bactrian camel
breeds (FAO, 2008)
Domesticated about 4,000
-5,000 years ago (Peters & von Driesch, 1997; reviewed in Groeneveld et. al., 2010)
Currently 97 dromedary breeds (FAO, 2008)
Wild Bactrian camels
Unclear h ow they avoided domestication
Possibly due to isolation in the Gashun Gobi (Lop Nur) area and Mongolia
Perhaps instinctive shyness played a role
(reviewed in Bulliet, 1990)
Bactrian camel-dromedary hybrid (bukht)
- single long hump
First generation larger and stronger than either parent (hybrid vigor)
Camel-llama hybrid (cama)
(Jones et al., 2008)
Female llama fertilized with camel sperm at Camel Reproduction Centre (Dubai)
DISTRIBUTION & HABITAT
(FAO, 2008) (Hare, 2008) (Mix et al., 2002) (Pigiere & Henrotay, 2012) (Tulgat & Schaller, 1992) (Yadamsuren et al., 2004) (Yadamsuren & Dovchindorj, 2005)
Early camels ranged from Asia to Eastern Europe.
Some crossed into Africa, expanding across northern Africa and as far south as northern Tanzania.
Wild Bactrian camel: 3 separated regions in China, 1 in Mongolia (
click here for IUCN distribution map)
Gashun Gobi, in Gansu
Taklamakan Desert, in Xinjiang (this population may now be extinct)
Arjin Shan Lop Nur Nature Reserve' (est. 2000) and adjacent northern slopes of Arjin Shan mountains
Great Gobi Reserve A (est. 1982) and adjacent areas (Reading et al., 1999; Mix et al., 2002; Wang et al., 2002)
Trans Altai Govi Desert
(Mix et al., 2002; Yadamsuren et al., 2004; Yadamsuren & Dovchindorj, 2005)
F oothills of the Edren Range to Shiveet Ulaan
Hükh Tömörtei Range to the state border
Domestic animals have been introduced throughout the arid and semiarid regions of the world.
Domestic Bactrian camel
Cold desert regions of Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia,
Hot arid deserts of Africa and Middle East Most in Somalia and Sudan.
A large feral population of dromedaries exists in Australia Archeological finds indicate that both the dromedary and domestic Bactrian camel were imported into northern provinces of the Roman Empire for military and civilian use (Pigière & Henrotay, 2012).
Habitat of wild Bactrian camel:
Desolate mountain and desert areas
Rocky mountain massifs
Deserts: flat pavement-like expanses, sand dunes
O ases fringed with poplars ( Populus) Sparse vegetation
Plants include: Haloxylon, Caragana, Salsola
Large temperature range
Up to 60-70°C (140-160°F) in summer
Down to -30°C (-22°F) in winter
May inhabit areas with no fresh water
Adapted to drinking saltwater slush, which domestic camels will not touch.
(Franklin, 2011) (Klingel, 1990)
(Kohler-Rollefson, 1991) (Wild Camel Protection Foundation)
Body Length: 10 ft (3.0 m)
Tail Length: 20 in (51 cm)
Unlike their llama/vicuna/guanaco relatives, all camel species have:
At least one hump on their backs
Long curved necks
Broad, large feet
Four teats rather than two
Domestic camels have been selectively bred over many years
Hybridization between species has occurred in ancestry of both domestic species
2 humps: small, pointed, conical
1.7 m (5.6 ft) at shoulder
450 kg (992 lb)
Frame: small and lithe relative to domestic Bactrian; laterally compressed (Mongolian name ‘havtagai’ means ‘flat’)
Legs: slender, no callosities on knees
Hair: tan or grayish on body; long and dark brown on upper legs, neck, top of humps, tail
2 humps: large, irregularly shaped, may become flaccid and flop to one side in adult
1.8 m (6.0 ft) at shoulder (shorter than dromedaries)
600-1,000 kg (1,320-2,200 lb)
Legs: short and stout
Feet: broad, 2-toed, cushioned by fat
Hair: long and dark; annual molt
1 hump: more elastic than Bactrian, shrinks with age instead of flopping to side
2.0 m (6.5 ft) at shoulder
400-600 kg (880-1,325 lb)
Frame: lighter than Bactrian
Legs: longer and more slender than Bactrian
Hair: short, light-colored
Large broad ‘elastic’ pad – hooves are 2 fingernail-like toenails on front of pad.
Unique among mammals
Other ungulates walk on tips of hoof-covered toes.
Wild Bactrian’s hoof is claw-like.
Composed of fibrous tissue and fat.
When fat is metabolized, it acts as a source of energy.
Concentration of body fat in humps is advantage in hot climate
Minimizes its presence throughout the rest of body
This reduces heat-trapping that occurs with insulating layers of fat.
Available nutrition determines size and shape - humps nearly disappear with starvation.
Not used for water storage.
Slit-like - can be closed to protect against blowing sand.
Special nasal cavities moisten air on way in, trap moisture going out.
Long lashes protect against blowing sand.
Bony arch over eye acts as sun shield.
Small and rounded
Hairs protect ears from blowing sand.
Prehensile lips, upper split in 2 halves.
Incisors and canine teeth grow though out life.
Adaptations for extremely dry environment
Red blood cells are oval (round in other mammals) Can flow quicker in a dehydrated state.
Urine is more concentrated than other animals (less water loss).
Dung is dry.
The kidneys and intestines are good at retaining water.
Can tolerate loss of water equal to over 30% of body weight
Most mammals die if they lose 15%
Wild Bactrian camel (not domestic) is able to drink saltwater slush when fresh water is unavailable. Adaptations for extreme heat
Able to endure temperature extremes, from -40°F in January to over 100°F in summer. Have only 25% the number of sweat glands as found in cattle
Only sweat when body temperatures reach 41-42
°C (105.8-107.6 °F)
Long legs keep bodies further from the hot ground to reduce overheating. Adaptations for blowing sand
Long eyelashes and ear hairs form a barrier against blowing sand.
Slit-like nostrils can close.
BEHAVIOR & ECOLOGY
(Gauthier-Pilters & Dagg, 1981) (Tulgat & Schaller, 1992) (Bannikov 1976)
Domestic camels are maintained in a semi-wild state.
Obtain food from wild vegetation, water from humans.
Unguarded camels will return to a familiar well.
Wild camels extremely shy
Acute eyesight allows them to spot danger 2-3 miles away and flee.
Browse or graze 6-8 hours and chew cud another 6-8 hours each day.
Constant work required to maintain health on low-nutrient desert plant life. Previously, migrated seasonally to green pastures.
Movements now curtailed by human settlements.
Form small groups of ~6 (2-15 animals).
Gather at oases and small springs.
Dromedaries may blow out (spit) cud when excited.
Bactrian camels do not deliberately spit (may if abused).
Little aggressive behavior except among males during breeding season.
Adults may push with lowered head and neck.
Canine teeth used as weapons.
Extreme fights can result in death of both combatants.
Rutting male stretches to hold head higher than a rival.
Rutting cry: “blo-blo-blo"
Male rubs back of head against shoulders (occipital gland)
Secretions tend to excite males
Normal gait is a “pace”
One foreleg and one hind leg on same side of body move forward together.
Horses, dogs and bears can also “pace” but more often “trot” (foreleg and diagonally opposite
hind leg move together).
If necessary, can travel 150 km (93 mi) in 15-20 hours.
Up to 65 km/hr (40 mi/hr) in short bursts
Up to 40 km/hr (25 mi/hr) sustained speed
Domestic camels have been known to swim (observed in Australia).
Integral part of nomad culture
Domesticated by nomads 3,000-4,000 years ago Still important part of nomad life in the Sahara
Provide meat, milk, hides, wool
Females can produce milk for several years after birth
Bactrian: 5 liters/day
Dromedary: 20 liters/day
Males used for transport and riding
Easily carry 200 kg (440 lb)
Can pull more than 1
ton with a wheeled cart
Convex back allows camels to carry more than a horse.
Load is limited by the weight it can rise with.
Used in combat
Used because of their ability to scare horses
Camel smell spooks horses
U.S. Army camel corps stationed in California in the 1800s
DIET & FEEDING
(FAO, 1994) (Bannikov, 1976) (Gauthier-Pilters, 1981) (Wilson, 1998)
Ruminants (cud-chewing mammals) usually have 4 stomachs (occasionally 3).
Plant material partially broken down in the 1st two stomachs, then regurgitated as
cud and chewed again.
Microbes (bacteria, protozoa, and fungi) in other stomach chambers assist in digestion.
Other ruminants: antelopes, sheep, goats, cattle, giraffes and bison and deer.
Camels graze (like sheep) and browse (like antelopes).
Move while feeding no matter how rich or poor the vegetation (do not degrade desert flora).
Mainly grasses, leaves and twigs of shrubs and trees - all plants of the desert.
Green shoots of saxaul ( Haloxylon).
Stems and foliage of Salsola, Ephedra, Zygophyllum.
Species in Mongolia include: Caragana, Haloxylon, Reaumuria, Salsola.
At oases: poplar, willows and reeds
Camels recognize poisonous plants growing in the area and will not eat them.
May eat poisonous plants in new, unfamiliar area,
Can eat sharp, thorny plants other animals can’t eat (e.g., saltbush).
Able to go without water for a long time (generally thought to be 4-5 days).
When dehydrated, body temperature can lower to 34°C to as high as 41°C.
Produce small amounts of concentrated thick urine.
Kept in same conditions, cattle lose water 3 times faster than camels
If the camel is kept near a water source or river, it may drink daily.
In cold weather, and when green feed is available, may not drink water for months
A thirsty camel in a hot dry season can drink up to 200 liters of water in one day. (Gauthier-Pilters, 1981) Salt
Salt is very important for the camel. It needs eight times as much salt as do cattle and sheep.
REPRODUCTION & DEVELOPMENT
(Yagil, 2006) (Bannikov, 1976)
Experiences rut in cooler / wetter seasons (greatest availability of food)
Peak rut in the Gobi: late January/February Develops a dulaa (sack-like extension of the soft palate).
Triggered by rising testosterone levels
Used to produce a mating call: male blows through the dulaa to push it outside the mouth (looks like a red balloon) and uses saliva to create a low gurgle.
Size of dulaa indicates male's virility to female
Marks territory with secretions from poll glands (on back of neck, between ears).
Rub necks on any solid object.
Urinates on own tail and swishes it over its back
Urine contains female-attracting pheromones.
Exhibits aggression toward other males.
Becomes extremely active - collects a harem with as many as 10-20 females (Bannikov, 1976)
Undergoes estrous cycle in breeding season: receptive 3-4 days, non-receptive following 10 days.
Bleats to indicate receptive
Approaches male, presenting hind quarters.
Flips tail up and down – short quick movements.
Dulaa also present in females but never extruded.
Only ungulate that copulates in a “sitting” position.
Reproduction rate: 2 year interval (minimum).
~1 year (12-14 months).
No reports of twins.
Most young born at end of March / April.
Female becomes restless, and separates from the other animals.
Calf size dependent on the size of its parents. ~35 (25 kg – 52 kg) males larger than females.
Front legs of calf appear first - then head.
Calf’s drop to the ground breaks umbilical cord.
Only ungulates that do not lick and clean baby. Sniff extensively and help the calf find milk.
Mother is protective – won’t accept orphaned young (these must be hand-raised)
Infant (< 1 year old)
Precocious young – stand and walk shortly after birth.
Starts to eat grass around 2 - 3 months old.
Weaning at 1-2 years.
Adult Females ~3-4 years, males around ~5-6 years.
(Gauthier-Pilters & Dagg, 1981) (Wild Camel Protection Foundation)
A small population of introduced dromedaries and Bactrian camels survived in the Southwest United States until the 1900s.
Imported from Turkey.
Part of the US Camel Corps experiment, used as draft animals in mines.
Escaped or were released after the project was terminated.
Camel milk is a staple food of desert nomad tribes - richer in fat and protein than cow milk.
Cannot be made into butter in the traditional churning method. – must be soured first, churned,
and a clarifying agent added.
The milk can readily be made into yogurt.
Many healthful properties - used as a medicinal product in India.
Bedouin tribes believe it has curative powers.
The Wild Camel Protection Foundation has established a captive breeding program in Mongolia.
Only 15 wild Bactrian camels are currently in captivity in China and Mongolia.
Females can produce 1 young every two years.
Artificial insemination may be necessary with such small numbers.
POPULATION AND CONSERVATION STATUS
(Hare, 2008) (Tulgat & Schaller, 1992) (WRI, 2004)
ISIS captive population
FAO data – more than 22 million worldwide, per WRI EarthWatch database
Majority are dromedaries (more than 15 million)
Most in Somalia (7 million) and Sudan (4 million)
Ethiopia and Kenya also have substantial numbers
700,000 feral animals in Australia are becoming a problem
IUCN data on wild Bactrian camels (2004)
About 600 in China
About 350 in Mongolia (down from about 650 in 1985
'Great Gobi Reserve A' established in Mongolia in 1982 and in 2000 - These are the herds completely isolated and unable to hybridize with domestic Bactrians
'Arjin Shan Lop Nur Nature Reserve' was established in China in 2000. Opening of a second Nature Reserve in China is also needed.
The Wild Camel Protection Foundation has established a captive Wild Bactrian Camel breeding program in Mongolia.
Only fifteen wild Bactrian camels are currently in captivity in China and Mongolia.
Females can produce 1 young every two years.
Artificial insemination may be necessary with such small numbers.
1970's - 1994: Vulnerable
1996 - 2000: Endangered (Criteria: A1cd, C2a)
2002, 2007: Critically Endangered
Threats to survival
In Mongolia, 25 to 30 Wild Bactrian Camels are being killed annually when they migrate across the international border into China (subsistence/sport hunting by locals).
In China in the new Arjin Shan Lop Nur Nature Sanctuary, up to 20 Wild Bactrian Camels are killed annually by miners and hunters for subsistence use.
Wolves are their principal non-human predator.
Drought has reduced number of oases, making wolves more successful predators.
For 45 years, this area of the Gashun Gobi was the nuclear test site area of China.
Wild Bactrian Camel survived and is apparently breeding naturally.
Other threats include:
Highly toxic illegal mining
Habitat used for gas pipe line
Domestic Bactrian camels and goats have also been introduced to the designated areas and hence compete for grazing and water.
Species could be wiped out if their natural habitats in China and Mongolia are destroyed.
Threat of hybridization
High infant mortality due to harsh conditions.
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