Camel, the Desert Ship

Camel, the Desert Ship

Camel, large ruminant native to the desert regions of Asia and northern Africa. There are two kinds of camels: the Arabian, or dromedary camel, which has one hump, and the Bactrian camel, which has two humps. The humps are stores of flesh and fat, absorbed as nutrition when food is scarce.

        A camel can subsist without water for several days. The Arabian camel usually stands 2 m (7 ft) tall at the shoulders. The hump rises about 30 cm (about 12 in) above the back. The Bactrian camel has slightly shorter legs, is about 1.9 m (about 6.5 ft) in height at the shoulders, but usually has a heavier torso than the dromedary. Both types of camels have been domesticated since ancient times.

     The Arabian camel, unknown in the wild state, is found from north-western India and the lowlands of Afghanistan to the extremity of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia to the south and westward across the African deserts.

      Attempts have been made to introduce the species into Spain, Zanzibar, and the south-western United States, but without lasting success. In Australia a population of about 25,000 feral Arabian camels still remains from an introduction that took place from 1840 to 1907.

      The Arabian camel is adapted to subsistence in the desert by its structural qualities and by its ability to bite off and consume the thorny plants that grow there. Thick, broad sole pads and thick callosities on the joints of the legs and on the chest, upon which it rests in a kneeling position, enable it to withstand the heat of the desert sand. Moreover, its nostrils may be closed against flying dust, and its eyes are shielded by very long eyelashes.

         The Bactrian camel is better adapted to a rocky and cooler region, by virtue of its smaller size and heavier build, harder and more cloven feet, longer and finer wool, and other qualities. The original distribution of the Bactrian camel extended over the dry steppes and semi desert of central Asia to Mongolia. Its current distribution is south-western Mongolia and north-western China; there are fewer than 1000 Bactrian camels in the wild. Its endurance is as remarkable, under different circumstances, as that of the Arabian camel, for it withstands the rigorous climate of the Tibetan Plateau (Qing Zang Gaoyuan), where the temperature rises to 60° C (140° F) in summer and sinks to arctic cold in winter. The endurance and strength of the camel have made it a valuable beast of burden. Loads as great as 454 kg (1000 lb) can be carried by the Bactrian camel, and although its pace is only about 4 km/h (about 2.5 mph), it can travel as many as 47 km (29 mi) in a day.

         The Arabian camel, generally used as a saddle animal, can cover more than 161 km (100 mi) in a day. The flesh and milk of the camel are used as food and the hide for leather. The long hair, shed every summer, is made into cordage, fine paint brushes, and a light, warm, long-napped cloth.

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Arabian CamelCamel RideBactrian camelPyramids Sound and Light Showsaddle up a camel around the Greeat Pyramids