The Bactrian Camel

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The wild camel (Camelus ferus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel. It belongs to the family Camelids (llamas, vicuñas, alpacas, guanacos and camels) evolved in North America during the Eocene Epoch, over 46 million years ago. They differ from all other mammals in the shape of their red blood cells, which are oval instead of circular.



The two-humped Bactrian camel is smaller and more slender than its domestic relative, and is superbly adapted to life in the harsh Gobi Desert. It has a double row of long eyelashes and hairs inside the ears to protect against damage from sand, and the camel’s long slit-like nostrils can be closed for further protection during sandstorms. The foot has a tough undivided sole consisting of two large toes, which spread apart widely for efficient travel across the shifting desert sands. The camel’s fur, which is a light brown or beige color, is thick and shaggy during the harsh winters and is shed rapidly in the spring.

Relative Size

            The Bactrian camel is the largest mammal in its native range and rivals the dromedary as the largest living camel. Shoulder height is from 180 to 230 cm, head-and-body length is 225–350 cm and the tail length is 35–55 cm At the top of the humps, the average height is 213 cm. Body mass can range from 300 to 900 kg with males often being much larger and heavier than females.


Did You Know

            Bactrian camels regularly eat snow to provide their water needs as snow and ice are the only forms of water during winter. The latent heat of snow and ice is enormous compared with the heat capacity of water, demanding a large sacrifice in heat energy and forcing animals to eat only small amounts at a time.


Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Mammalia
Order
Artiodactyla
Family
Camelidae
Genus
Camelus
Species
C. ferus
  
Other Names
           
English
Wild Camel and Bactrian Camel
French
Chameau de Bactriane
German
Trampeltier
Mongolian
хавтгайг
Spanish
Camello Bactriano
  
Status

            The Bactrian camel is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List, 2010. The species was first identifies as Vulnerable in 1986 and Endangered by 1996 before classified as Critically Endangered (CR) by 2002, 2007 and 2008. The species is also listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or the Bonn Convention)
  
Population

            The domesticated population exceeds over two million whereas the wild population dwindle approximately 600 individuals surviving in China and 350 in Mongolia.
  

Habitat

           The camels are migratory, and their habitat ranges from rocky mountain massifs to flat arid desert, stony planes and sand dunes. Historically the habitat extended from about the great bend of the Yellow River, across the deserts of southern Mongolia and northwestern China to central Kazakhstan.
  
Range

            The species has suffered a drastic reduction in its range. It now occurs only in three separated habitats in northwest China (Lake Lob, Taklimikan desert and the ranges of Arjin Shan) and one in the Trans-Altai Gobi desert of southwest Mongolia. The largest population lives in the Gashun Gobi (Lop Nur) Desert in Xinjiang Province, China, which was for 45 years used as a test site for nuclear weapons. The camels’ distribution is linked to the availability of water, with large groups congregating near rivers after rain or at the foot of the mountains, where water can be obtained from springs in the summer months, and in the form of snow during the winter.
  

Biology

         Bactrian camels are extremely adept at withstanding wide variations in temperature - from freezing cold to blistering heat.  They have a remarkable ability to go without water for months at a time, but when water is available they may drink up to 57 liters at once. To conserve water, camels produce dry faeces and little urine and allow their body temperature to fluctuate, therefore reducing the need to sweat. If no fresh water is available, the species can drink salty or brackish water with no ill effects (camels are the only land mammals adapted for this).


Wild Bactrian camels are highly migratory, and herds will travel vast distances in search of food and water sources. Herds of up to 100 individuals may gather in the autumn at the beginning of the rutting season, usually in the more mountainous regions where there is a greater availability of water. Wild camels are diurnal, sleeping at night in open spaces and foraging for food during the day. Shrubs and grass form the bulk of the diet, with the animals being well adapted to feed on thorns, dries vegetation and salty plants, which other herbivores avoid.


Breeding usually occurs in winter, often overlapping with the rainy season. Males during this time are often quite violent and may bite, spit, or attempt to sit on other male camels. The age of sexual maturity varies, but is usually reached at 3 to 5 years. The Gestation lasts around 13 months, with most young being born from March through April. Females give birth to their first calf at around 5 years of age and the inter birth interval is usually at least 2 years. The young ones are nursed for about 1.5 years. The young calf stays with its mother for three to five years, until it reaches sexual maturity. Wild camels are thought to live up to 40 years of age.


Predators

The only extant predators that regularly target wild Bactrian camels are gray wolves, which have been seen to pursue weaker and weather-battered camels as they try to reach oases. Due to increasingly dry conditions in the species' range, the numbers of cases of wolf predation on wild camels at oases has reportedly increased. Historically, the Caspian tiger was also known to predate wild Bactrian camels before its extinction.


Threats

           Habitat loss has been high to development for mining and industrial complexes. Due to increasing human populations, wild camels are forced to share food and water sources with introduced domestic stock and are thus sometimes shot by farmers. The domesticated Bactrians, freely mate with wild individual and led to a concern of a loss of genetically distinct wild Bactrian camel. Wild Bactrian camels have been heavily hunted for their meat and hide over the centuries and further habitat loss has occurred with the development of a gas pipe-line in the north of the reserve and highly toxic illegal mining activities.
  

Conservation Measures

           Areas of the Gobi and Gashun Gobi desert (Lop Nur), where the Bactrian camel remain, are protected by the Great Gobi Reserve in Mongolia which was established in 1982, and by the national reserve ‘Lop Nur Wild Camel Reserve’ in China which was established in 2000. The Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) aims to increase the population of the species through captive breeding. In 2003 it established a sanctuary in Zakhyn-Us, Mongolia, which has some of the last non-hybridized herds of Bactrian camels.
  

References

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