Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Camels & Their Secrets

Image by xikita 

I have a bit of a love affair with camels. I have even slept with some – no, not like that, we were in a desert, I had to huddle up to one to keep warm – oh, never mind. They are just such brilliant characters. 

Anyone who has been on a camel that doesn’t want to go anywhere knows that they have lost the fight. Once a camel refuses to budge, that’s your lot.

If they don’t like you or you’ve annoyed them, they can dredge up this horrid green bile from their stomachs and spray it all over you – this is a brilliant fact, as long as this is happening to one of your friends, and not you, of course.

It’s not just their lovely long legs
Camels come in two flavours; the common dromedary (one hump) or the Bactrian (two hump) variety, and the word camel translates from the Arabic ǧml which means “beauty” in English, and anyone who has seen the relationship between a Bedouin or any desert dweller and his camels couldn’t fail to see how both are enamoured with each other.

These beasts are absolutely unique as mammals as they can go for extremely long periods without water. They have oval blood cells that can still flow when they are dehydrated, unlike any other mammal – they, in fact are the only mammal to have oval cells.

They can drink up to 40 gallons of water in one go, but do not store it in the hump – the hump stores fat, so that there is less heat-trapping insulation going on around the rest of its body. This means that it can tolerate the extreme temperature changes in the desert, ranging from 0 degrees, to over 45 degrees – but camels don’t even break a sweat until they get to 41 degrees.

They can eat the thorny bush plants found in the desert due to their unique split lip, and being able to eat green plants gives them extra moisture, and the shape of their nostrils lets them retain water vapour, which is returned to the body as fluid. See, they are very, very intelligent creatures!

Bring on the camel cavalry!
They have been used many times during history in wars, and the camel cavalry have been instrumental in transportation of troops and equipment in areas where there are no roads, and where no horse would fear to tread.

Where they have been pitched in battle against those on horseback, they invariably win, and one of the folklores surrounding this is that the smell of the camels disorientates the horses. Roman Emperor Claudius used this tactic when he used the camel cavalry to invade Britain in AD 43. And we all know, all roads lead to Rome.

Where have all the camels gone?
The dromedary camel has the highest concentration around the Horn of Africa, encompassing Somalia, Ethiopia and Sudan, where they are largely domesticated and provide transport, milk, meat and clothing for the nomadic people.

The estimated 1.4 million Bactrian camels are largely found in the Gobi desert and Mongolia, so they stretch out quite far.

The largest feral camel population in the world is actually in Australia. They were introduced to Oz in the late 19th century as a method of transportation, and if you visit any Victorian town you will see that the roads are super wide, and that’s so that people could manoeuvre their camel trains. 

Now their descendants roam in the enormous deserts there, growing each year by 8%. Sadly, the Australian government has had to make the decision to cull some of these, as the sheep farmers outback have very limited resources in terms of grazing and water.

In the second half of the 20th century, a small population of introduced camels lived in the South West USA. Originally from Turkey, they were part of the experimental U.S. Camel Corps but escaped after the project terminated.

If you need further reason why these amazing creatures deserve to be on your fav animal list, how about this: they have been the only animal to replace the wheel in North Africa, after the wheel had been invented! Yes, your tyres could only get you so far across a sandy desert with no road – these guys can take you anywhere!

Share your camel tales here.

Sarah O’Neill is an animal lover and also loves history. She writes blogs for Petmeds, an online shop selling dog harness, leads, supplements, medication, and everything you need to ensure optimum dog health. 

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