Animal Info - Wild Bactrian Camel

(Other Names: 双峰驼, 双峰骆驼, 野骆驼, Bactrian Camel, Camello Bactriano, Chameau de Bactriane, Havtagai, Shuang Feng Luo Tuo, Two-humped Camel, Wildkamel)

Camelus bactrianus (Camelus bactrianus ferus)

Status: Critically Endangered


Contents

1. Profile (Picture)
2. Tidbits
3. Status and Trends (IUCN Status, Countries Where Currently Found, Population Estimates, History of Distribution, Threats and Reasons for Decline)
4. Data on Biology and Ecology (Weight, Habitat, Age to Maturity, Gestation Period, Birth Season, Birth Rate, Early Development, Dispersal, Maximum Age, Diet, Behavior, Social Organization, Age and Gender Distribution, Density and Range)
5. References


Profile

Pictures: Wild Bactrian Camel (50 Kb JPEG) (John Hare/IUCN); Domestic Bactrian Camel (59 Kb JPEG) (Wild Camel Prot. Found.)

The wild Bactrian (two-humped) camel is adapted to arid plains and hills where water sources are few and vegetation is sparse. Shrubs constitute its main source of food. Herds of these wild camels move widely, their distribution being linked to water. The animals tend to concentrate in and around mountains, because most springs are there and snow on the slopes may provide the only moisture in winter. Concentrations of up to 100 camels occur near the mountains, but most herds contain 2 - 15 members. The small average herd size in the past 100 years reflects not just the aridity of the environment but also heavy hunting pressure.

The range of the wild Bactrian camel in historic times extended from the great bend of the Yellow River at 110 deg E westward across the deserts of southern Mongolia and northwestern China to central Kazakhstan. It was already heavily hunted for its meat and hide in the 1800's, and by the 1850's it persisted only in remote areas of the Gobi and Taklimakan Deserts in Mongolia and China. By the 1920's, its populations had become fragmented, and it is currently restricted to three small, remnant populations in Mongolia and China.

Heavy persecution by hunters and competition with domestic animals for water and pasture were the principal causes of decline up to the 1960's. Hunting has continued to have a major impact up to the present. Additional threats include settling of oases by pastoralists, prospecting for and extraction of oil and gold, and hybridization with domestic camel stock.


Tidbits

*** The wild Bactrian camel is one of the world's rarest mammals.

*** The habitat of wild camels is extremely harsh. A nearly lifeless land, its temperature may reach 60 - 70 deg C (140 - 160 deg F) in summer and -30 deg C (-22 deg F) in winter.   To protect against these extreme conditions, the camel's long, narrow nostrils and dense eyelashes efficiently prevent damage from sandstorms. The slitlike nostrils can be closed to keep out dust and sand. It sweats and urinates little, thus prolonging resistance to thirst. Under the soles of its feet a horny layer enables it to walk on broken, stony ground and hot, sandy ground with ease.

*** Wild and domestic Bactrian camels readily interbreed, but physically they are quite different. The wild camels have a sandy, gray-brown rather than a predominantly dark brown coat; and their body form is small and slender, rather than large and bulky like that of the domestic Bactrian camel (The Mongolians call the wild camel "havtagai", which means "flat."). The most important difference, however, is in the humps. The humps of a wild camel are small and pyramid-shaped, with a round base and a pointed end. The humps of a domestic camel are distinctively large and irregular. (Tan 1996, Schaller 1998, Nowak 1999)

*** Approximately 2.5 million domestic Bactrian camels occur in Central Asia (Schaller 1998).

*** Contrary to popular legend, there is no evidence that camels store water in the stomach (or in the hump). Although they are adapted for conservation of water, they will lose weight and strength if they go for long periods without drinking. (Nowak 1999)


Status and Trends

IUCN Status:

Countries Where the Wild Bactrian Camel Is Currently Found:

2004: Occurs in China (Xinjiang) and Mongolia. (IUCN 2004)

Population Estimates:

[Note: Figures given are for wild populations only.]

History of Distribution:

The range of the wild Bactrian camel in historic times extended from about the great bend of the Yellow River at 110 deg E westward across the deserts of southern Mongolia and northwestern China to central Kazakhstan. Heavily hunted for its meat and hide, by the 1850's it had vanished from the western part of its range and persisted only in remote areas of the Gobi and Taklimakan Deserts. When Przewalski discovered it for science in 1877, its distribution was apparently still continuous between the Gobi and Taklimakan Deserts. By the 1920's, its populations had become fragmented, although it could still be encountered anywhere in the Gobi Desert. Between 1940 and 1974, the range of the wild camel in Mongolia did not change significantly, but the southern part of its range, which lies chiefly within China, was reduced.  The wild camel subsequently became restricted to relatively small areas of southwestern Mongolia and northwestern China

Currently, wild camels are restricted to three small, remnant populations in Mongolia and China: in the Taklimakan Desert, the deserts around Lop Nur (a lake and marsh that dried up after the waters of the Tarim River were diverted for irrigation), and the area in and around Region A of Mongolia’s Great Gobi Strict Protected Area.  (IUCN 1966, Bannikov 1975, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Schaller 1998, Reading et al. 1999)

Distribution Map #1 (4 Kb GIF) (Huffman 2004)
Distribution Map #2 (24 Kb JPEG) (Spec. Cons. Found.)

Threats and Reasons for Decline:

In Mongolia, heavy persecution by hunters and competition with domestic animals for water and pasture were the principal causes of decline up to the 1960's. Hunting has continued to have a major impact up to the present. Additional threats include settling of oases by pastoralists, prospecting for and extraction of oil and gold, and hybridization with domestic camel stock.  (IUCN 1966, Schaller 1998, Hare 1998, Nowak 1999)


Data on Biology and Ecology

Weight:

Female: The average weight of 7 females was estimated at 446 (377 - 517) kg (980 (830 - 1140) lb); male: the average weight of 2 (probably not full-grown) males was estimated at 394 (367 - 422) kg (870 (810 - 930) lb) (Schaller 1998).

Habitat:

The Bactrian camel is adapted to arid plains and hills where water sources are few and vegetation is sparse, often little beyond some drought-resistant shrubs. (Schaller 1998)

Age to Maturity:

Females generally give birth at the age of 5 years.

Gestation Period:

Average - 406 days (domestic camels).

Birth Season:

Most births are in March and early April (Schaller 1998).

Birth Rate:

At least two years between births.

Early Development:

Newborns can walk after 2 hours and can follow their mothers after 24 hours.

Dispersal:

Independence comes at 1 year (Tan 1996).

Maximum Age:

35 - 40 years (Tan 1996).

Diet:

Away from the few oases, the vegetation consists of a thin cover of shrubs, which serve as the camel’s principal food; grasses and forbs are scarce (Schaller 1998).

Behavior:

In the Gobi Desert, herds move widely, their distribution being linked to water. The animals tend to concentrate in and around the massifs, because most springs are there and snow on the slopes may provide the only moisture in winter. They also shift to areas where a local shower has created a flush of green. (Schaller 1998) This camel is said to be a good swimmer (Nowak 1999). Its long limbs and flat soles enable it to run as fast as a horse, at a speed of 30 km/h (19 mi/h) for 60 km (38 mi) nonstop (Tan 1996).

Social Organization:

Concentrations of up to 100 camels occur near the mountains, especially in October and November toward the onset of the rut. Average herd size was 6.0 (1 - 48) in the 675 herds tallied during the 1980's and it remained similar in the 1990's. A few individuals (3 - 5%) of both sexes were solitary, but most (63 - 79%) were in herds with 2 - 15 members. Others have recorded lone animals and herds with up to 23 individuals and an average of 4.7. The small average herd size in the past 100 years reflects not just the aridity of the environment but heavy hunting pressure. (Schaller 1998)

A study in Mongolia found a mean group size of 10.26 2.38 individuals/group; (1 - 55, n = 27) (Reading et al. 1999).

Age and Gender Distribution:

A ratio of 1 male to 1.6 females was observed (Schaller 1998).

The number of young in herds from 1982 onward was low. Counts during September - December, when young were at least 5 - 6 months old, showed an average of 5.0 % (1.8 - 10.7%) young from 1981 to 1994. Two studies in China counted 13.8% young in 80 camels (1985) and 24.8% in 50 camels (1995). (Schaller 1998)

Density and Range:

Density:

  • 4.98 2.01 individuals/100 sq km (12.9 5.21 individuals/100 sq mi) (Reading et al. 1999).
  • 2.3 - 6.1 individuals/100 sq km (6.0 - 15.8 individuals/100 sq mi) (1986) (cited in Reading et al. 1999)

References

Bannikov 1975, Burton & Pearson 1987, Hare 1997, Hare 1998, Huffman 2004, IUCN, IUCN 1966, IUCN 1994, IUCN 1996, IUCN 2000, IUCN 2003a, IUCN 2004, Nowak 1999, Nowak & Paradiso 1983, Reading et al. 1999, San Diego Zoo, Schaller 1998, Spec. Cons. Found., Tan 1996, Tsevegmid & Dashdorj 1974, Wild Camel Prot. Found.


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Last modified: March 11, 2006;

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