within the genus
, bearing distinctive fat deposits
known as humps on their backs. There are two species: the dromedary
camel has a single hump, and the
has two humps. They
are native to the dry desert
and East Asia
, respectively. Both species
are domesticated to provide milk
and meat, and
as beasts of burden
The term camel
is also used more broadly to describe any
of the six camel like creatures in the family Camelidae
: the two true camels, and the four
camelids, the llama
, and vicuña
The average life expectancy
camel is 40 to 50 years
. A fully grown adult
camel stands at the shoulder and at the hump. The hump rises about
out of its body. Camels can run at up to in short bursts and
sustain speeds of up to .
Fossil evidence indicates that the ancestors of modern camels
evolved in North America
period, and later spread to
most parts of Asia. Humans first domesticated camels before 2000
Distribution and numbers
14 million dromedaries alive today
animals (mostly living in Somalia, the
Middle East and Indian subcontinent).
estimated quarter of the world's camel population is found in
Somalia and in the Somali
Region of Ethiopia, where the camel is an important part
of nomadic Somali life.
They provide the Somali people
with milk, food and
Camel headcount in 2003
The Bactrian camel
is now reduced to
an estimated 1.4 million animals, mostly domesticated. It is
thought that there are about 1000 wild Bactrian camels in the
in China and Mongolia.
There is a substantial feral
dromedaries estimated at up to 1,000,000 in central parts of
, descended from individuals
introduced as transport animals in the 19th century and early 20th
century. This population is growing at approximately 18% per year.
government of South
Australia has decided
to cull the animals using aerial marksmen, because the camels use
too much of the limited resources needed by sheep farmers.
For more information, see
Australian feral camel
A small population of introduced camels, dromedaries and Bactrians
survived in the Southwest United
until the 1900s. These animals, imported from Turkey,
were part of the U.S. Camel Corps
experiment and used as draft
animals in mines and escaped or were released after the project was
terminated. A descendant of one of these was seen by a
backpacker in Los Padres National Forest in 1972.
Twenty-three Bactrian camels were
brought to Canada during the Cariboo
Camels do not store water in their humps as is commonly believed.
The humps are actually a reservoir of fatty tissue. Concentrating
in their humps minimizes
heat-trapping insulation throughout the rest of their body, which
may be an adaptation to living in hot climates. When this tissue is
metabolized, it acts as a source of energy, and yields more than
1 g of water for each 1 g of fat converted through
reaction with oxygen from air. This process of fat metabolization
generates a net loss of water through respiration for the oxygen
required to convert the fat.
A camel's thick coat is one of their
many adaptations that aid them in desert-like conditions.
Their ability to withstand long periods without water is due to a
series of physiological adaptations. Their red blood cells
have an oval shape, unlike
those of other mammals
, which are circular.
This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated
state. These cells are also more
stable in order to withstand high osmotic
variation without rupturing when drinking large amounts of water (
to in one drink). Oval red corpuscles are not found in any other
mammal, but are present in reptiles, birds, and fish.
Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature
and water content that
would kill most other animals. Their temperature ranges from at
night up to during the day, and only above this threshold will they
begin to sweat. The upper body temperature range is often not
reached during the day in milder climatic conditions, and
therefore, the camel may not sweat at all during the day.
Evaporation of their sweat takes place at the skin level, not at
the surface of their coat, thereby being very efficient at cooling
the body compared to the amount of water lost through
Domsticated camels at the Pyramids of
A feature of their nostrils is that a large amount of water vapor
in their exhalations is trapped and
returned to their body fluids, thereby reducing the amount of water
lost through respiration.
They can withstand at least 20-25% weight loss due to sweating
(most mammals can only withstand about 15% dehydration before
from circulatory disturbance). A camel's blood remains hydrated,
even though the body fluids are lost, until this 25% limit is
Camels eating green herbage can ingest sufficient moisture in
milder conditions to maintain their bodies' hydrated state without
the need for drinking.
A camel's thick coat reflects sunlight, and also insulates it from
the intense heat radiated from desert sand. A shorn camel has to
sweat 50% more to avoid overheating. Their long legs help by
keeping them further from the hot ground. Camels have been known to
Their mouth is very sturdy, able to chew thorny desert plants. Long
eyelashes and ear hairs, together with sealable nostrils, form a
barrier against sand. Their gait and their widened feet help them
move without sinking into the sand.
of a camel are very efficient at
retaining water. Urine comes out as a thick syrup, and their feces
are so dry that they can fuel fires.
All camelids have an unusual immune
. In all mammals, the Y-shaped antibody
molecules consist of two heavy (or long)
chains along the length of the Y, and two light (or short) chains
at each tip of the Y. Camels also have antibody molecules that have
only two heavy chains, which makes them smaller and more durable.
These heavy chain-only
antibodies, which were discovered
in 1993, probably developed 50 million years ago, after
camelids split from ruminants and pigs, according to biochemist
The camel is the only animal to have replaced the wheel (mainly in
) where the wheel had
already been established. The camel did not lose that distinction
until the wheel was combined with the internal combustion engine in
the 20th century.
English Imperial Camel Corps Brigade
Attempts have been made to employ camels as cavalry
and as freight animals instead of horses and mules. In some places,
such as Australia
, some of the camels have
and are considered to be
dangerous to travelers on camels. The camels were mostly used in
combat because of their ability to scare off horses in close
ranges, a quality famously employed by the Achaemenid
Persians when fighting Lydia
, although the Persians usually used camels as
baggage trains for arrows and equipment. The horses detest the
smell of camels , and therefore, the horses in the vicinity become
harder to control. The United
States Army had an active camel
corps stationed in California in the 19th century, and the brick stables may
still be seen at the Benicia Arsenal in Benicia, California, now converted to artists' and artisans' studio
Camels have been used in wars throughout Africa, and
also in the East Roman Empire
forces known as Dromedarii
recruited in desert provinces. During
the American Civil War
were used at an experimental stage, but were not used any further,
as they were unpopular with the men.
Camel calf feeding on her mother's milk
Camel milk is a staple food
nomad tribes and is richer in fat and protein than cow milk. It is
said to have many healthful properties. It is used as a
medicinal product in India and as an
aphrodisiac in Ethiopia.
believe that the curative powers of
camel milk is enhanced if the camel's diet consists of certain
plants. Camel milk can readily be made into yogurt
, but can only be made into butter or cheese
with difficulty. Butter or yogurt made from camel milk is said to
have a very faint greenish tinge.
Camel milk cannot be made into butter
traditional churning method. It can be made if it is soured first,
churned, and a clarifying agent added, or if it is churned at , but
times vary greatly in achieving results. Until recently, camel milk
could not be made into cheese because rennet
was unable to coagulate the milk proteins to allow the collection
. Under the commission of the FAO
, Professor J.P. Ramet
École Nationale Supérieure d'Agronomie et des Industries
(ENSAIA) was able to produce curdling by the
addition of calcium phosphate
vegetable rennet. The cheese produced from this process has low
levels of cholesterol and lactose. The sale of camel cheese is
limited owing to the low yield of cheese from milk and the
uncertainty of pasteurization levels for camel milk which makes
adherence to dairy import regulations difficult.
A camel carcass
can provide a substantial
amount of meat. The male dromedary carcass can weigh or more, while
the carcass of a male Bactrian can weigh up to . The carcass of a
female camel (or she-camel) weighs less than the male, ranging
between , but can provide a substantial amount of meat. The
brisket, ribs and loin are among the preferred parts, but the hump
is considered a delicacy and is most favored. It is reported that
camel meat tastes like coarse beef, but older camels can prove to
be tough and less flavorful.
Camel meat has been eaten for centuries. It has been recorded
by ancient Greek writers as an
available dish in ancient Persia at banquets,
usually roasted whole.
The ancient Roman
enjoyed camel's heel. Camel meat is still
eaten in certain regions including Somalia, where it is
called Hilib geyl, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Kazakhstan and other arid regions where alternative forms of
protein may be limited or where camel meat has had a long cultural
In the Middle East, camel meat is the rarest and
most prized source of pastırma
the meat, but also blood is a consumable item as is the case in
northern Kenya, where camel
blood is a source of iron, vitamin D, salts and minerals. Camel meat is also
occasionally found in Australian
cuisine, for example, a camel lasagne is
available in Alice
A 2005 report issued jointly by the Saudi Ministry of Health and
the United States Center for Disease Control details cases of human
resulting from the
ingestion of raw camel liver.
Cultural prohibitions on consuming camel products
According to Jewish
tradition, camel meat and
milk are not kosher
. Camels possess only one
of the two Kosher criteria
they chew their cuds
, they do not possess
. (See: Taboo food and drink
- —Note that Bulliet has many more references to early use of
- Wild Bactrian Camel, Animal Info
- Edwards GP, Zeng B, Saalfeld WK, Vaarzon-Morel P and McGregor M
(Eds). 2008. Managing the impacts of feral camels in Australia:
a new way of doing business. DKCRC Report 47. Desert Knowledge
Cooperative Research Centre, Alice Springs. Available at
Retrieved November 25, 2009.
- What secrets lie within the camel's hump?,
Retrieved 7 January 2008.
- Dromedary, Hannover Zoo. Retrieved 8 January
- Examining your blood under a compound
microscope, Kidsmicroscope.com. Accessed June 7, 2009.
- FAO Camels, Camel information from The Food and
Agriculture Organization of the U.N.
- The Straight Dope, Answering the question Is
the Camel the Only Animal that can't Swim?
- Fresh from your local drome'dairy'? Food and Agriculture
Organization, July 6, 2001