The dromedary, or one-humped camel (Camelus dromedarius), was probably first domesticated around 3000 B.C. – Camel rider, Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The Bactrian, or two-humped camel (Camelus bactrianus), was probably domesticated around 2500 B.C. – Chengdu Zoo, Sichuan Province, China. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The earliest known camelid, Protylopus, which lived in North America 40 to 50 million years ago, was about the size of a rabbit. About 10 million years later, other camelids had evolved, among these Poebrotherium, an animal the size of a goat and somewhat resembling today’s camels and llamas.
The direct ancestor of modern camels, Procamelus, lived around 5 million years ago, spreading to South America via the newly formed Isthmus of Panama, where it evolved into the llama, the guanaco, and the vicuña, and via a Bering land bridge to Asia, where it evolved into true camels.
The last native camel in North America was Camelops hesternus, which, together with a host of other animals, such as mastodon, saber-toothed cat, and horse, in all probability were extirpated by nomadic hunters, which had migrated here via the latest Bering land bridge, about 12,000 years ago.
The true camels, which evolved in Asia, are characterized by their distinctive fatty deposits on their back, called the hump. Three species are recognized.
The dromedary, or one-humped camel (Camelus dromedarius), is extinct in the wild, but is widely distributed as a domestic animal, from India across the Middle East to the Arabian Peninsula, Egypt, Somalia, and northern Kenya.
The Bactrian, or two-humped camel (Camelus bactrianus), which is also extinct in the wild, is found in the Central Asian highlands and Iran, but in much lower numbers than the dromedary. These two species are closely related, as they are able to interbreed and produce fertile offspring.
A widely accepted theory today is that both these species evolved from a third species, the wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus), which lives in a few scattered herds in Mongolia, Sinkiang, and Tibet, the total population probably being fewer than a thousand individuals. It is thus critically endangered and may soon go extinct.
The dromedary was probably first domesticated around 3000 B.C. in Somalia or southern Arabia, while the first domestication of the Bactrian camel in Central Asia is believed to have taken place around 2500 B.C.
The reason for their successful survival as domesticated animals lies in their ability to thrive in areas with a hot and dry climate, being able to survive for long periods of time without access to drinking water. Thus, they were very useful for transporting goods across deserts. Camels can lose a third of their body weight due to dehydration without any harm. When they do have access to water, they are able to drink an unbelievable amount of it. It has been recorded that one camel, weighing about 600 kilograms, drank about 200 litres in a few minutes. Camels do not store water in their hump as was formerly believed. The hump is fatty tissue, and the reason for the storage of fat here is that the animal is better able to withstand a hot climate without an insulating layer of fat distributed over the entire body.
Besides being pack animals, which transport goods and people, camels provide meat and milk, bags are produced from their skin, and textiles from their fur. A former, rather special utilization of the dromedary was camel cavalries, used by armed forces in desert warfare, mostly as a means of transportation, as horses didn’t thrive in these dry conditions. Fighting also sometimes took place from camel-back, initially with spears and bows, and later with rifles.
The Gujjars, a tribe of pastoral Muslim nomads, who live in the Indian Himalaya, utilize camels as a means of transportation. Although the Rajaji area in Uttarakhand was declared a national park in 1993, the Gujjars still live here. Foresters have pointed out that these people should be banned from grazing their animals in the park, but, ironically, they seem to benefit wildlife here, as they keep poachers away from the area. For instance, the number of wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) in the park has increased in later years. The Gujjars themselves do not harm wildlife, as they are vegetarians.
The camels of this Gujjar are loaded with huge bundles of hay, Rajaji National Park, Uttarakhand, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This frieze in the Lakshmana Temple, Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh, India, depicting camels, was carved around 1000 A.D. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Camels can lose a third of their body weight due to dehydration without any harm. When they do have access to water, they are able to drink an unbelievable amount of it. – Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Camels have broad, flat, leathery pads under their feet – an adaptation to avoid sinking into soft sand. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
At an early stage, camels were used for transporting goods across deserts. These pictures are from the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. (Photos copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
This dromedary in the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, is pulling a cart, laden with yarn. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Camels are ruminants. This camel in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India, is chewing the cud. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
In winter, when she camels in Rajasthan, India, are in heat, bull camels in rut often emit a gargling roar, blowing up their tongue and letting it hang out of the mouth, smeared in pink saliva, which is flying all over the place. Our camel drivers made this comment: “The camel is sexy.” (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
The gestation period of camels are 360 to 420 days. This picture shows mating dromedaries at a breeding centre for camels in Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dromedary foals, Bikaner, Rajasthan, India. The weight of a newborn foal varies between 35 and 40 kilograms. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dromedaries are often very affectionate. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Camel caravans are history, but you can get a feel of the daily life of caravans by going on a camel safari. This picture was taken during a safari in the Thar Desert, Rajasthan, India. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Dromedary, dressed up for transporting tourists, Petra, Jordan. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During the Hindu festival of Holi, popularly called ‘The Festival of Colours’, this camel rider in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, India, has been smeared in dyed powder. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Camel festivals are held annually several places in the Tahr Desert, Rajasthan, India. The following four pictures were taken during a festival in the town of Bikaner.
Decorated dromedary. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
Elaborate patterns have been cut in the fur of this camel. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
During a camel festival, music and dancing camels are a part of the entertainment. (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
How many people can a dromedary carry? (Photo copyright © by Kaj Halberg)
(Uploaded September 2017)
(Revised December 2018)