Bactrian Camel Facts
|Scientific Name||Camelus Bactrianus|
|Size (H)||1.7m - 2.1m (5.5ft - 7ft)|
|Weight||600kg - 816kg (1,322lbs - 1,800lbs)|
|Top Speed||64km/h (40mph)|
|Lifespan||35 - 50 years|
|Habitat||Deserts close to water|
|Average Litter Size||1|
|Main Prey||Seeds, Grass, Thorny Shrubs|
|Predators||Human, Tiger, Monitor Lizards|
|Distinctive Features||Thick fur and two humps|
Bactrian Camel Location
Map of Asia
Double-humped camels are called Bactrian camels. Two species roam the planet today: domesticated Bactrian camels and wild Bactrian camels. Unfortunately, wild Bactrians are teetering on the verge of extinction and also rank among the least-studied animals on Earth. If drastic measures aren’t implemented soon, they could cease to exist in 20 years. Conversely, domesticated Bactrian camels are thriving and boast population numbers in the millions. The one-humped dromedary camels are also plentiful.
Ten Fascinating Bactrian Camel Facts
- Recent genetic studies revealed that domesticated Bactrian camels are a different species than the wild ones. They are thought to have diverged 1.1 million years ago.
- People in what is now Afghanistan and Turkestan began domesticating Bactrian camels in 2500 B.C.
- Wild Bactrians are the only remaining wild camel species in the world.
- In ancient Arabian times, riding camels was a status symbol.
- Bactrian camels can carry 170 to 250 kilograms (370 to 559 pounds) for 47 kilometers (30 miles) a day.
- In 1856, the United States military initiated the Camel Corps. But, the Civil War broke out, so the government abandoned the project.
- Mongolians hold a yearly camel race. Participants wear traditional clothing, and colorful commentators give play-by-play updates of the nine-mile race over bullhorns.
- Camel dung is so dry it can be used to fuel fire without first being dried out.
- Camels don't sweat until their body temperature reaches 106 degrees Fahrenheit.
- The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle first described camels in his book "History of Animals."
Bactrian Camel Scientific Name
Camelus ferus is the scientific name for wild Bactrian camels, and Camelus Bactrianus is the scientific name for domesticated Bactrian camels.
Camelus comes from Latin. Linguists believe the word evolved from the Arabic phrase jamala, which means “to bear.” Bactrian, and by extension Bactrianus, refer to an ancient region in Asia called Bactria. Ferus references “feral,” which means wild.
The Mongolian word for wild Bactrians is havtagai.
Bactrian Camel Appearance and Behavior
Camel bodies are built to withstand extreme conditions, and they can survive in temperatures ranging from 20 degrees Fahrenheit (-29C) to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49C).
Bactrian Camel Appearance
Many people think camel humps are water containers, but their signature bumps are actually stuffed with fat that can be accessed in lean times. When the fat is drained, the humps don’t maintain their shape. Instead, they flip-flop from side to side.
Bactrian camel heads are rectangular, but wild Bactrian skulls are flatter. Their noses are muscular narrow slits that can be closed to block dirt and sand. However, despite their tiny nostrils, camels have an excellent sense of smell.
Their small hairy ears and double-row of eyelashes also guard against the elements. A set of hidden eyelids, with two halves that shut like windows, also serve as an extra seal. Plus, their bushy eyebrows act as natural sun visors. Bactrian camels even have hair on their lips to protect against thorny shrubs.
Domesticated Bactrians sport thick, shaggy fur, and they rock large beards on their throats and necks. However, wild coats are thinner. They come in a range of colors, from dark brown to eggshell white. Molting happens naturally, and the fur tends to come off in large clumps, which gives the camels a ragged appearance in spring months.
Camel feet are one of Mother Nature’s technological marvels. They have round hooves with two large toes that carry weight evenly. A tough outer membrane protects against hot and rocky terrain, and built-in shock absorbers ease the pain of long treks.
Bactrian camels are between 225 to 350 centimeters (7.38 to 11.48 feet) long. From the top of their humps to the ground, they’re about 213 centimeters (6.9 feet) tall and usually tip the scales between 300 and 1,000 kilograms (660 to 2,200 pounds). They are the largest camel species, the largest mammal in their native range, and males are typically larger than females.
Humps on wild Bactrian camels are smaller and more cone-shaped than the ones on domesticated Bactrians. Moreover, domesticated individuals have shorter legs and smoother fur. But both species have powerful muscles that help the animals stay upright when strong winds blow through.
Bactrian Camel Behavior
Bactrian camels are diurnal, which means they sleep at night and forage for food during the day. They travel in packs called flocks or caravans. Up to 30 animals may roll together with a single male leading the way, but it’s more common to see packs of 6 to 20. After a rain, the different flocks convene at rivers, springs, and other water sources to load up, and a single animal can drink up to 57 liters of water in one sitting. That’s like drinking an entire beer keg at once!
Domesticated Bactrian camels are warm, friendly animals that form affectionate bonds with humans. Mothers and children are also exceptionally close, and when death strikes, they mourn for up to six months. Wild Bactrians, on the other hand, are shier. They usually run away when people come close and can scatter quickly! Though camels may appear lumbering, the animals can sprint up to 65 kilometers (40 miles) per hour! Watch out, though, if you find yourself close to a camel. Like their alpaca and llama cousins, Bactrian camels spit. But what comes out of their mouth isn’t saliva — it’s vomit!
Not only are camels fine-tuned for harsh ground conditions, but they’re also excellent swimmers.
Wild Bactrian camels are native to arid regions in central Asia. Specifically, they stick to the Gobi Desert of northern China and southern Mongolia. Currently, the overwhelming majority live on conservation preserves, including:
- Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve
- Great Gobi: A Strictly Protected Area
- Altun Shan Wild Camel Nature Preserve
- Aksai Annanba Nature Reserve
- Dunhuang Wanya Idun Nature Reserve
The Lop Nur reserve was once a nuclear testing site, but it hasn’t affected the camels. However, recent mining activity in the area is proving deleterious. As such, scientists are working with officials to relocate the camels to Pleistocene Park in Siberia. The Bactrians would be a proxy for another camel species that went extinct in the region. If the plan works, the move could be a boon for the species.
Regarding the move to Siberia, you may be wondering, “can camels live in cold and snowy regions?” The answer is yes! Camels are highly adaptable. They can withstand scorching temperatures, frigid conditions, and everything in between.
Domesticated Bactrians live throughout Asia on farms and with families.
Bactrian camels are omnivores in every sense of the word. While they prefer to dine on shrubs — including feather grass, tamarind trees, and saxaul trees — they will down whatever they can find. Camels won’t kill other land animals, but they will eat carcasses and suck the marrow from bones. They’ll also kill fish. If no meat or vegetation is available, camels have special enzymes that can digest tents, clothes, and shoes.
Wild Bactrians can handle saltwater better than any other animal; however, domesticated ones aren’t as hardy. Both can extract nutrients from snow and ice though, which is a natural skill that many animals don’t have. Bactrian camels can also draw water from plants and bark.
Speaking of water, camels can down over 100 liters (22 gallons) in under 10 minutes! That’s the equivalent of drinking 300 glasses of water in 10 minutes! Because of their ability to consume so much at once, camels can go for weeks between feedings.
Gray wolves are wild camels' only natural predators. Caspian tigers once preyed on them, but they've since gone extinct regionally. Today, humans are the species’ worst threat.
Humans started hunting Bactrian camels for their meat and hides in the 1800s. By the 1920s, the population had significantly dwindled. Officials established poaching restrictions; however, illegal hunting remains a problem. Moreover, as humans encroach on camel territory, the situation has worsened. Farmers shoot camels that get too close to livestock, and some even use land mines to protect their properties.
Rezoning is also devastating for Bactrian camels in the wild. In China, mining toxicity is proving especially harmful.
Domesticated Bactrian camels aren’t in the same danger as wild ones. However, some scientists worry that elevated rates of hybridization between domestic and wild Bactrians could lead to genetic degradation and further harm the wild population.
Bactrian Camel Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan
Bactrian Camel Reproduction
Winter is mating season for Bactrian camels. To attract females, males vocalize and strike awkward poses.
Lady camels reach sexual maturity at around five years old and are induced ovulators, meaning they don’t release eggs until they’ve been inseminated.
Gestation lasts 13 months, and they typically give birth every other year. Mothers usually give birth to one baby at a time, but twins happen on rare occasions.
If you see a lone camel straggling, it’s likely just reached puberty and searching for a flock to join.
Baby Bactrian Camels
A baby Bactrian camel is called a calf, and males are sometimes referred to as bull calves. They don’t have humps when born and weigh about 36 kilograms (79 pounds) at birth. Lightening fast learners, camels are precocial - meaning they can walk within hours of entering the world.
Calves stay with their mothers for three to four years, and they nurse for about one and a half of those. Helpful and involved siblings, they often help raise new babies that come during that time.
Moms and their offspring form strong bonds, and they mourn each other’s deaths for up to six months.
Bactrian Camel Population
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List ranks wild Bactrian camels as Critically Endangered. Researchers estimate that only 1,400 remain. The Zoological Society of London lists the animals as the eighth most-endangered large mammal in the world.
However, domesticated Bactrian camels are in much better shape. About two million of them live throughout Asia, and hybridization efforts are big business in places like Kazakhstan.
Bactrian Camel FAQs
Are Bactrian camels carnivores, herbivores, or omnivores?
How do farmers and families use domesticated Bactrian camels?
What are the three species of camel?