The Camel - Nature's True Nomads


Camels have lived in some of the most desolate corners of our planet, and not only do they live, they thrive. Most large animals are unable to survive in these kinds of desolate places. This is because of their large requirement for resources such as food and water. Camels are able to use this to their advantage as a survival strategy. By living in deserts, mountains, and other arid places Camels are able to avoid predators, and others who would compete for resources. Camels are only able to do this because of their amazing ability to efficiently use the resources their environments provide. A camel can travel long distances which allow them to take advantage of the maximum number of resources. They can withstand a massive amount of dehydration which allow them to survive not only between watering holes, but sometimes between seasons. When at a watering hole camels are able to gorge themselves and rehydrate quickly. For food, camels are omnivorous. They can eat almost anything be it vegetation, meat, or bone,-- salty or sweet, a camels stomach knows no limits. But it is their temperament that is truly endeared the camel to man. Docile and sweet under a caring hand, but stubborn and angry if ill treated, the camel both wins your heart and your respect.

Arabian Camels: An overview of camels and man in Arabia.

Perhaps nowhere else on earth is more associated with the camel than the Arabian Peninsula. Their story is not one of a free population; however, but of a domesticated animal. Throughout history, Arabian camels have served the needs of humans, and have benefited from that service as a species. Humans have in fact assured the survival of camels for thousands of years and quite literally led them to success as a species that they probably would never have had on their own. The camel has played such an important role in Arab culture that there are over 160 words for "camel" in the Arabic language. The geography and climate have combined to define an entire culture with the camel at its core. This certainly must be seen as high praise of this remarkable animal.

As early as 1800 BC, trade routes from Asia and Africa crossed the Arabian Peninsula carrying spices, incense, gold, ivory, and silk on their way to Europe and the lands of the Fertile Crescent. Camels were used by the Nabateans in the first century BC, on their way from the Gulf of Aqaba to the trading capital of Petra in central Jordan. Camels were used by the Bedouin, whose warriors formed the nucleus of the Muslim armies that conquered the Byzantine and Persian Empires in the 7th century AD. War, trade, and civilization -- all riding on the back of a hump.

Camel Meat

Although chicken is the most widely consumed domestic meat in Saudi Arabia today, camel meat could be the meat of the future especially in health-conscious Western countries. This is because camel meat has no cholesterol and hardly any fat, since the fat is concentrated in the camel's hump, which can weigh up to 80 lbs. and can be easily discarded. If a camel's fat was distributed over it's body like a humans, it would insulate the body and make it harder to cool down.

MPC – Miles Per Camel

About 90% of the camels in the world today are dromedaries. While the term dromedary is used throughout the world to describe the species in general, the word originally comes from the Greek "dromos" which means road, and is technically referring to the racing or riding dromedaries. True riding dromedaries can travel 80 to 120 miles per day carrying a rider. Their cousin dromedaries (called baggage camels) have a heavier build and are capable of carrying as much as 992 lbs. A baggage camel can travel up to 40 mi. per day, a caravan will usually average only about 12 mi. per day, depending on how fresh the animals are at the start, and how long the trip is expected to be. They travel at about 2 mph fully loaded, and 2 1/2 mph unloaded. Camels prefer to walk, particularly when it's hot; but when speed is required, they either gallop or pace. The pace is a medium-speed movement which uses both legs on one side at a time, this produces a swaying or rocking motion and can make riders "seasick." This swaying motion is actually where the camel gets its moniker of "ship of the desert."

How Big Is a Camel?

A mature camel (6-7 years old) weighs between 551 lbs. to 1500 lbs., and stands from 6 ft. to 6 1/2 ft. tall at the shoulders. A camel's thick wool can make it appear larger, especially during the winter. Their head and body length is 10 ft., not including a rope like tail which is over 20 in. long.

Sand Shoes

Camels have two toes on each foot, each with a hoof on the front that looks like a toenail. They walk on their toes much like a woman wearing a pair of high heels. But, instead of a heel, a camel has a ball of fat that helps form the soft pad on the bottom of its foot. This pad supports the animal on the sand like a pair of snowshoes, and makes the camel almost completely silent when it walks and runs.

Body Pads

They also have callous like pads on their chest, the back of their front leg joints, and the front of their back leg joints. These pads cushion the animal when it kneels down and keeps it comfortable while it is resting on the ground, even on hot sand. The pads are made of tough leathery skin that looks as though the hair has been rubbed off. These pads are natural, however, and not a sign of wear. They start developing after the camel is born and become tough at about five months old. To get up, a camel must first straighten its hind legs and then jerked up its front legs. This allows the camel to lie down and get up, even when heavily loaded.

Weather-Proof Head

The camel's head, though small, is one of its most interesting features. It has two large eyes on either side of the head. Each eye is shaded from the noonday sun by a projecting ridge of bone that thick bushy eyebrows sit on.

The eye itself is protected from sand by two rows of extra long eyelashes, one on the upper eyelid, and one on the lower eyelid. In addition to this, each eye also has a very thin third eyelid that moves with a side to side motion, front to back. These can act as a windshield wiper brushing away sand, or can close to protect the eye while still allowing the camel to see.

In this way, a camel can often see well enough to keep walking in the midst of a sandstorm. Glands in the camel's eye supply a lot of water in order to keep the eye moist under extremely dry conditions. Located far back on the head are small rounded ears. These ears are covered in hair, including the inside of the ear, which helps keep out airborne sand and dust. The camel's valvular nostrils are lined with hair and work on the same principle as the ears to protect it from airborne sand and dust. A camel's nose is also designed to trap moisture from the lungs when the animal exhales, thereby saving water.

Mouth That Is Rough and Ready

Camels are mobile browsers and have a deeply split upper lip. Their split lip is ideally suited to stripping leaves from even the most prickly trees and shrubs. With their long neck, they can reach 11 1/2 ft. high and can feed on tough thorny plants that even sheep and goats would pass over. They can do this because of stiff hairs on their nose that permit them to push their way into thorny plants and thick skin inside their mouth that thorns cannot pierce. They also like (even need) extremely salty plants that grow at salt lakes and other locations. Inside the camel's mouth are 34 strong sharp teeth, that can be used as weapons, as well as for feeding. Although camels will normally select the freshest vegetation available, when food is scarce, they are omnivore. This means they eat everything, fresh plants, dried plants, bones, fish, meat, leather, and even on occasion their owner's tent. Camels are called ruminant feeders, because they do not chew their food before swallowing it. Instead, later after feeding, they regurgitate some of it (which is now politely called cud) and finish chewing it. Then, it's three chambered stomach can complete the digestion. When a camel cannot find food, it's hump will shrink, droop to one side, or even slide off the camel's back to one side. However, the hump will rapidly return to size in a few weeks once the camel finds food.

Drink Up, and Up, and ...

In the wintertime, camels can gather enough moisture from the plants they eat to go as much as 50 days without water. However, in the summertime, they may only go 5 days without water.

Camels have 4 major ways of surviving without water.

1) Camels are capable of losing safely 30% of their body's weight in water, which would kill any other animal. They can do this because:

--Fluid levels in their circulator system are maintained by taking fluid from the body's tissues.

--The hydrophilicity (ability to attract water) of a camel's hemoglobins means its red blood cells resist dehydration.

--Red blood cells (erythrocytes) are normally circular, except in the family Camelidae, where they are oval. These small oval erythrocytes can circulate more easily at increased blood viscosities.

--Camel blood contains 94% water, just like humans. But during dehydration, their blood can lose up to 40% of its water safely. According to doctors, human blood must stay very close to 94% water. If it loses 5% of its water, you go blind; at 10%, you can't hear and go insane; 12%, and your blood is as thick as molasses. Unable to circulate blood, you're dead.

In effect, these biomechanisms for coping with dehydration, allow camels to use water in their body tissue as storage capacity, because the water can be used without any damage to the camel's health.

2. Camels are capable of drinking 30 gallons of water in 10 minutes. Scientists have even found a camels stomach empty 10 minutes after drinking 20 gallons of water. In other animals, drinking that much water would quickly result in water intoxication. This is a dangerous condition, where low electrolyte levels (sodium, etc) in the blood serum cause water to be forced into the body's cells and tissues through a process called osmosis. In humans, this electrolyte imbalance and tissue swelling can cause an irregular heartbeat, allow fluid to enter the lungs, and put pressure on the brain and nerves, which can cause behaviors resembling alcohol intoxication. In severe cases, swelling brain tissue can cause seizures, coma, and ultimately death. This is probably what started the myth that if you let a camel drinking as much as it wants, it will drink itself to death.

But, where does the water go? The water first goes into the bloodstream. The hemoglobins in a camel's red blood cells are highly hydrophilic (attracts water). This allows them to swell to 240% of their normal size. Amazingly, these hemoglobins also resist hyperhydration, which helps them avoid severe osmotic problems when the camel drinks a larger amount of water. The blood stream then quickly rehydrates the rest of the body's tissues. Contrary to the popular myth, only about a gallon and a half of water is stored in special sacks within a camel's stomach. This is a very limited amount of water and is not the camels main storage device.

3. Camels minimize water loss through their waste. The camel's kidneys can concentrate their urine to the consistency of syrup with twice the salt content of sea water. And, their fecal pellets are so dry that they can be used for cooking fuel immediately after voiding.

4. Camels do not sweat, instead they allow their body temperature to rise and fall from 97.7-107.6°F (36.5-42°C)! That's 10° F (5.5°C)! In humans, an increase of only 2°F (1°C) is a sign of illness; and, a core temperature rise of 6°F (3 °C) will result in vital organ damage and eventually death.

5. Camels can drink brackish or salty water that would be unfit for most other animals.

Chill, Camel Dude

The camel keeps as cool as it can by resting when the weather is extremely hot, and feeding at night or in the morning. It will lay down in a shady place, if it can find one, or face in the direction of the sun to minimize how much of its body is exposed to the rays. During the heat of the day, a group of camels may press against each other, because their body temperatures are lower than the air temperature. [44] In captivity, a camel will usually work only six months of the year. They will become ill or die, if too much work is demanded from them.

Camel Wool

Camel wool is a high quality fiber used in the Arab world for rug making and clothing. Camels molt in the spring and a new coat is regrown by autumn. The average annual wool output per camel, is 7.23 lbs. for a male, and 4.63 lbs. for a female. Dromedary wool possesses several valuable properties in today's markets, such as low heat conductivity, softness, and strength. Camel wool may be manufactured into a wide range of warm fabrics. A camel's fur may be shades of brown, nearly white to almost black.

Vitamin C Rich Camel Milk

A camel with well-formed udders may produce 8-10.6 gal. a day. Camels can give milk even under harsh conditions; and, unlike dairy cows, do not need much or any supplements to do so. A camel can produce 5.28 gal. of milk a day without drinking any water for up to 10 days! Camel milk is chemically similar to cattle milk, but has a higher proportion of vitamin C. It also has more fat, protein, and minerals than either cow's or goat's milk.



[Adapted from:]