Bactrian Camel

Category: Wildlife

Bactrian camels are found in the rocky desert regions of central and eastern Asia, including the Gobi Desert. They mainly feed on leaves, bark, stems, seeds, roots and thorny plants, although they will also eat the skin and bones of animal carcasses and even rope if no vegetation is available. Bactrian camels can live as long as 50 years in captivity.

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel

Scientific & Common Names

The scientific name of the domesticated Bactrian camel is Camelus bactrianus. There is also the wild Bactrian camel, known as Camelus ferus.

Characteristics

Bactrian camels are distinguished from dromedary camels by having two humps instead of one. They also have nostrils that can close to keep out sand, bushy eyebrows, long eyelashes and large, thick footpads. Bactrian camels have shaggy coats of brown or beige hair that become thinner in summer. Adults weigh around 1,800 pounds and stand over 7 feet tall at the hump.

A popular misconception is that camels store water in their humps. What they are actually storing is fatty tissue that can act as a nutrition reserve when food is scarce. The hump actually has very little, if anything, to do with the camel's unique ability to survive long periods without water. Their noses are actually more essential for this, as they have specialized structures that cool the air the animal inhales, causing condensation which helps trap water vapor.

Breeding

Bactrian camels breed in the fall. After going through a gestation period of roughly 13 months, females give birth to one or two offspring. The calves can stand shortly after birth and stay with their mother until they are between 3 and 5 years old. Wild Bactrian camels and domesticated Bactrian camels occasionally breed together.

Behavior

Domestic Bactrian camels form groups of up to 20 individuals and travel in single file. They move both legs on the same side at the same time, which helps them maintain a faster pace. Some wild Bactrian camels lead solitary lives, while others form small groups. They spend most of their time going from one grazing area to another during the day.

History

Bactrian camels were first domesticated roughly 3,500 years ago. Feral herds are still found, though, in certain areas of China and Mongolia. Wild Bactrian camels had a historic range that stretched from the Yellow River to central Kazakhstan.

Present Status

Domestic Bactrian camels do not have an official conservation status, but wild Bactrian camels are critically endangered. The most recent estimates indicate that there are roughly 950 wild Bactrian camels left. The main threats to this species include hunting, habitat loss and competition with domesticated camels for water and grazing areas. Conservation efforts include captive breeding to maintain the species and the establishment of protected reserves.