Status: Critically endangered
Known as: Bactrian Camel
Estimated numbers left in the wild: less than 1,000
One of the strangest-looking land animals of our era, the Bactrian camel is a large ungulate (hoofed mammal) with two large humps on its back, expanded feet for walking on sand, and a long, sinuous neck. They are very large, standing 1.8 to 2.3 meters tall at the summit of their humps, and weighing from 300 to 1,000 kilograms (males being much larger than females on average). Their bodies show many adaptations to their dry environment, including the humps (which are composed of fat, not water), nostrils which can be closed to exclude sand, long eyelashes to protect the eyes from windblown grit, and large, flat, two-toed feet that support them on sand. A massive callus on the chest allows them to rest on hot sand without risking burns to their skin. The neck often sports a spectacularly thick, shaggy mane. Despite their ungainly looks, they can run as swiftly as a horse.
Habitat: Bactrian camels are adapted to the Central Asian deserts, able to survive extremes of heat, cold, and dryness that would kill most other animals. One of their most remarkable adaptations is their ability to survive for weeks without drinking, as long as there are some plants to eat in order to absorb water. However, once water is available, a Bactrian camel can drink as much as 135 litres within a single quarter-hour period. They eat mostly grasses and shrubs. They will eat dry plants with a bitter or salty flavour in preference to other vegetation. These tough animals can survive temperatures ranging from -30 C to 38 C or hotter.
Breeding: Like many desert animals and those found in similarly harsh environments, most Bactrian camels produce only one calf at a time after a twelve to fourteen month gestation. Two calves are sometimes born, however. Up to twenty camels live in a flock, though some groups are as large as thirty. Young adults remain with their mother for several years, helping to nurture the next calf born, then disperse alone before forming new flocks. Bactrian camels can live for 35 to 40 years.
Their main natural predator is the grey wolf, which mostly attacks injured, sick, or weak individuals, especially those weakened by weather and dehydration.
Location: Small numbers of Bactrian camels still survive in Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan’s Mangistau Province. Desert environments are favoured by these camels, including sand dunes, sand or gravel plains, arid hills, and high, dry mountain massifs.
Threats: Habitat loss and competition with livestock for sharply limited resources are major hazards facing surviving wild populations of Bactrian camels today. Farmers sometimes shoot the animals. Global warming is also threatening wild Bactrian camels by making weather more extreme and lessening the number of oases in their natural range. This makes death by dehydration – or between the fangs of wolves hunting weak, thirsty camels – much more likely.
Conservation efforts: Two large Gobi desert reserves have been founded for the species thanks to a cooperative effort between the Chinese and Mongolian governments and the Wild Camel Protection Foundation. A captive breeding program is underway to further populate these reserves.
Do you know of or are you a part of an organisation that work to conserve the Bactrian Camel, then please contact us to have it featured on Our Endangered World.