Today’s endangered species is brought to you by the family Camelidae. Fun fact. Camels were once native to North America before the age of humans. Unfortunately, humans hunted a lot and they ended up going extinct. Now before you say, “But I see camels in the zoo all the time!”, I know you do. That would be because camels were reintroduced domestically to the continent. Now, there are two types of camels; the Camelus ferus (Bactrian or two humped camel) and C. dromedarius (Dromedary or one humped camel). Bactrian camel is the species we are focusing on today. It should be also noted that I am talking about the wild Bactrian camel as opposed to its domestic counterparts which are listed under Camelus bactriarus.
The Bactrian camel hails from China and Mongolia. Historically, they spanned the all across both these countries but today they are mainly found in the Gobi and Taklimakan Deserts. Bactrian camels have evolved to be able to handle harsh desert conditions. They weigh anywhere between 650-1500 pounds (350-690 kg) and they are about 5.9-7.5 feet (180-230 cm) tall. Their heads rise above their shoulders allowing them to tower at almost 12 feet (365 cm) tall and their tails are 1-2 feet (30-60 cm) long. Bactrian camels have long, shaggy, beige colored fur in the winter and they shed it almost completely in the summer. They also have a double row of eyelashes and thick hairs in their ears to protect against sand. Their nostrils are slit-like and they are able to close them when sandstorms are really harsh. Their feet are different from what you might imagine a camel to have. Instead of hooves, they have big, flat padded soles that help them hold their weight and navigate rocky, desert terrain.
Bactrian camels are diurnal; which means they are most active during the day. They are also herbivores. Because they live in a desert climate, and vegetation can be scarce, they are one of the only land mammals adapted to eating thorns, dry shrubs and salty plants. Most animals avoid those. They are also to consume a mass quantities of water. In fact, they are only mammal in the world that can drink brackish, salty water and have no ill effects. They are able to consume up to 15 gallons (57 litres) of water in one sitting. Contrary to what a lot of people believe, it is not water that is stored in their humps, its fat. They are able to go days without food or water living off their fat reserves however, they must replenish them whenever water is available. Bactrian camels are migratory creatures; travelling in herd sizes anywhere between 6 and 20. Females reach sexual maturity around 5 years of age and usually have their offspring in the winter or rainy season. Their lifespan is typically 40-50 years in the wold.
Bactrian camels have been listed on the IUCN Red List as critically endangered since 2007. There are less than 950 individuals left. There are a myriad of threats to this species. The major one is hunting. Bactrian camels are still consistently hunted for meat and sport. Another major threat is reduction in water available. The area in which they live has experienced extreme droughts which dry up the oasis’ they usually frequent and makes them extremely vulnerable to wolves. Hybridization is another threat to the Bactrian camel because their genetic diversity is slowly declining. Lastly, and this one is a real doozy, occurs from habitat loss. Bactrian are so evolved that they were able to survive nuclear tests over the last 75 years! That’s right people, they’re immune to radiation effects and yet, humans are trying to claim their habitat in order to mine. Boggles the mind, truly.
Conservation efforts are underway; slowly but surely. The Wild Camel Protection Foundation is a breeding program established in Mongolia hoping to increase numbers with the 15 individuals in the captive population. China has also established a protected area called The Great Gobi Natural Reserve but a second protected area is definitely needed. If you’re interested in donating to the conservation of the Bactrian camel, WWF has an adopt a bactrian plush program here.