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One of the most efficient, resourceful and highly adept animals on the planet, the dromedary, or one-humped camel can thrive in the most inhospitable of environments. Found predominantly in northern Africa, the Middle East, and desert regions of Asia and Australia camels have ingenious adaptive features that enable their survival in extreme conditions. For example, in scorching, arid temperatures that can exceed 45oC camels conserve their precious bodily fluids by not sweating. Their urine is thick and syrup-like with a high salt content so as to excrete mostly waste and reduce fluid loss. This helps them from becoming dangerously dehydrated if they can’t get to water. Camels also have a double layer of long eyelashes, bushy eyebrows and a third eyelid to protect their eyes from the sand and grit of the desert environment. They can close their nostrils, and their ears are small and compact to decrease the amount of dust and sand that might enter these orifices during a sand storm. The camel’s foot is a wide, heat-resistant, cushioned pad enabling the camel to travel comfortably over burning, hot desert sands without sinking.
Contrary to popular myth a camel stores fat, not water, in its hump. The camel can break down this fat into water and energy to sustain itself when these things are not available; it’s like carrying around a huge picnic basket on their back. Approximately 36 kilograms of fat can be stored in the camel’s hump, which can sustain them for up to 160 kilometres of travel without water or food.
Another popular myth is that camels don’t really need to drink at all. A camel can survive for a few weeks without water, but when a thirsty camel finally gets the chance to drink it is like a sponge. A thirsty camel can drink up to 130 litres of water in about 10 minutes. Camels are ruminant herbivores and like to feed on grass, hay, grains, dried leaves and thorny desert vegetation – they have even been caught eating sun hats, leather boots and canvas tents!
An adult camel reaches a height of 6 – 7 feet tall and can weigh anywhere between 300 – 700 kgs, with a life expectancy of 40 – 50 years. The gestation period of a female camel is approximately 13 months, usually giving birth to only one calf. A newborn calf does not have a hump and is able to stand up within a few hours of being born.
Camels were first imported into Australia from Pakistan and India in the mid 1800’s by early settlers exploring the country’s interior, and for the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line, outback cattle and sheep stations, dams, pipelines and railways. By the 1920’s machinery and motorised transport replaced camels, and so the pioneering camels were released. As such, Australia has the largest population of ‘free ranging’, wild camels. 90% of the world’s camels have been domesticated and are used for transportation, their meat, milk, fur, the fat in their hump for cooking, and their dry dung to fuel fire. The worldwide population of camels is around 20 million; there are approximately 1.5 million camels throughout Australia.
- The Dromedary camel is also commonly known as the Arabian camel
- The collective noun for a group of camels is a flock or a caravan of camels
- Camels’ milk is rich in fat and has a higher protein content than cows’ milk
- The rare and endangered Bactrian camel has two humps, and is found mainly in north-east Asia
- Alpacas and Llamas are members of the same Camelidae family as camels
- When a camel is angry it may spit; this spit is really regurgitated food consisting of mucous, saliva and vomit!
- Camel racing in the Middle East is very popular
- Australia has the largest remaining population of wild camels
- Melbourne Zoo
- Healesville Sanctuary
- Werribee Open Range Zoo