Camel, a large mammal of the desert. The camel is a ruminant, or cudchewing animal, and has one or two humps on its back. The Arabian camel has one hump and is native to Africa, Saudi Arabia, and southwestern Asia. It is no longer found wild. The Bactrian camel, which has two humps, is found in Central Asia. Both species have been domesticated for riding and as draft animals. A dromedary is any camel used for racing, but the word usually refers to Arabian racing camels.

The camelThe camel is a large desert dweller with one or two humps on its back.

Camels grow to seven feet (2.1 m) tall and weigh up to 2,000 pounds (900 kg). They mature at the age of 17 and live up to 50 years. They are usually dark brown to dusty gray in color; however, white camels do occur. Camels are often ill-tempered and are known to spit at people, bite, and kick.

The camel is well adapted for life in the desert. It feeds on desert vegetation and can go without water for up to three weeks. Loaded pack camels can travel for three or four days without water.

The secret of the camel's endurance is its ability to conserve water. Its body temperature, unlike that of most mammals, is not constant; instead, it rises during the heat of the day, eliminating the need to sweat or pant and thus conserving water. In addition, little water is excreted in its urine and feces.

The camel has flat, broad feet that enable it to stand on top of sand without sinking. Each foot has two toes with small nails. Tough, horny pads on the feet, chest, thighs, and knees protect the skin from burning when the camel lies down on the sand. Double rows of long, thick eyelashes protect the camel's eyes from glare and sand. The slit-like nostrils can be closed during sand or dust storms.

The camel's hump contains fat, which sustains the animal during times when food is scarce. If the camel goes for a long period without food, the hump will collapse. It takes three to four months of normal eating for the hump to return to its normal size and shape.

The Arabian camel is adapted to deep sand and extreme heat. It can carry up to 400 pounds (180 kg) on a four-day trip, covering about 40 miles (64 km) a day. Camels bred for racing can run at speeds of about eight miles (13 km) per hour. Arabian camels have short, woolly hair and a slender build. They are more docile and easier to train than Bactrian camels.

The Bactrian camel is adapted to snow and extreme cold. Its coat is denser and its foot pads thicker than those of the Arabian camel, allowing it to withstand cold winters. The Bactrian camel can carry loads of up to 1,000 pounds (450 kg) for short distances. It is endangered because of indiscriminate killing by nomads for its meat, which is used as food, and its skin, which is used to make leather.

Importance and History

Camels are often referred to as “ships of the desert” because they carry freight and people across long distances. Their milk and meat are consumed by desert people. Their hair is shorn and used to make rugs, ropes, garments, and tents. The hide is tanned into leather. The dried dung is used as fuel. Mounted camel units have been used over the centuries by military and police forces.

The camel is believed to be the most ancient of the ruminants. Camels originated in the Americas about 40,000,000 years ago and had migrated to Asia by the time of the last Ice Age, millions of years ago. Camels had been domesticated in Arabia by 1800 B.C., and perhaps as early as 4000 B.C.; in Central Asia by 400 B.C. North American camels became extinct about 15,000 years ago.

Facts in brief about camels
Names: Male, bull; female, cow; young, calf, foal; group, herd.
Gestation period: About 13 months.
Number of young: Usually 1.
Length of life: Up to 40 years.
Where found: Africa and Asia.
Scientific classification: Camels belong to the camel family, Camelidae. They are in the genus Camelus. The Arabian camel is C. dromedarius. The Bactrian camel is C. bactrianus.