The Dromedary Camel, also known as the Arabian camel, exists today only as a domesticated animal and make up 90% of the 20 million camels in the world.
Technology has replaced them as the farm animal used for ploughing and transport and even the Beouins aren’t as dependent of their camels as they once used to be. Today camels are valued as thoroughbred racing animals in the Middle East. In Somalia in particular they are valued for their milk. In Australia there is a population of feral camels imported in the 19th Century.
There are two types of Bactrian Camel: the Wild Bactrian (Camelus ferus) and the domesticated Bactrian (Camelus ferus f.bactrianus). Bactrians are generally found in Northern China, Mongolia, Russia, India and any country ending in “stan”. The wild camel is only found in the Gobi Desert. The Mongolian nomads who own camel herds use them for transport and for their meat, milk and wool.
Features of a Camel
Weight: An adult camel weighs between 300 – 700kgs.
Shoulder Height: 1.8 to 2.3 metres
Life Span: 40-50 years
Gestation: 13 months (one calf only)
Colour: Generally brown but can be white, black or, in the case of the Pintado, brown and white with blue eyes.
Eyes: Normally brown. Camels have three eyelids. Two of the eyelids have lashes and the third eyelid comes from the corner of the eye. The eyes are protected by a double row of long curly eyelashes which help keep out the sand and dust. Thick bushy eyebrows shield the eyes from the desert sun.
Ears: A camel’s ears are small and are lined with fur to filter out sand and dust.
Nose: The nasal passages are protected by large muscular nostrils that can be opened and closed at will. The camel is able to cool the incoming air and condense the moisture.
Feet: Broad leathery pads with two toes with nails on. Nail trimming is an important part of camel husbandry.
Hump: A camel’s hump is a giant mound of fat that the camel can live off if there is no food around. Floppy humps indicate lack of nutrition or ill health.
Speed: Normal walking speed is 3 miles per hour. A pack camel can carry loads of up to 400 kgs and travel 25 miles in a day. Racing camels can gallop up to 30 miles per hour.
Water: A camel uses about 20 litres of water a day in the summer. It can lose up to 100 litres of water from its body tissues without any ill effects. Camels can go a week or more without water, and they can last several months without food. They can survive a 40 percent bodyweight loss and then drink up to 40 litres of water at one drinking session. Their unique metabolism enables them to store the water in their blood streams.
Body Temperature: The camel has a unique body thermostat. It can raise its body temperature tolerance level significantly allowing it to conserve body fluids and avoid unnecessary water loss.
Camel Milk is richer in fat and protein than cows’ milk. It is used as a medicinal product in India and as an aphrodisiac in Ethiopia.
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A pintado camel (blue eyes)
GUIDELINES FOR KEEPING CAMELS
A Dangerous Wild Animal Licence is required to keep camels.
Camels are licensed under the DWA (Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976) and you will need to apply to your local council for a licence to keep camels. The licence only allows you to move the camels for breeding or for veterinary treatment.
Interpretation of the criteria and fees for a DWA licence vary from council to council.
An inspection will be required before granting of the licence.
You will also need Public Liability Insurance.
Camels are herd animals and should not be kept on their own.
The minimum area for keeping camels should be 2 acres per camel. Most other animals can be companions for camels, but ideally camels should be kept with at least one other camel.
Do not keep camels next to a bridleway as many horses are alarmed by camels.
Fencing: Fencing will depend on what the local council require to comply with their interpretation of the DWA rules. Post and rail and electric fencing can be used. Do not use stock fencing as they can get their feet caught in this.
Shelter: A field shelter or stable should be available.
Feeding: Camels are ruminants and like to browse. They need hay in winter, grass in the summer and hard food if they need it. No brassicas.
Water: In captivity they should have access to water at all times.
Foot Care: They will need their toe nails trimming either by the vet or a farrier. Therefore they need to be trained to lift up their feet to have them trimmed.
Grooming: They moult in the spring, starting at their back end. They must be trained to be tied up to be groomed. Regular grooming is important. They shed up to 5lbs of hair at each moult. Dromedaries moult later than Bactrians and do not shed as much hair.
Breeding Camels: Male camels should be castrated. Keeping a full male is dangerous. When they come into musk they are very aggressive and unpredictable. You will need to find a zoo that is willing to let you have access to their breeding males which is unlikely. Artificial insemination is a possibility.
What will you do with the camels you breed? Could you look after them and train them, or if you sell them to whom would you sell them.
Importing camels to the UK: Importing camels is costly and complicated if you do it yourself and, if you use a dealer, even more costly with no after-care service. The provenance of your camel could be suspect and the paperwork dubious. If you know nothing about camels you should take someone with you who does or you will be sold a pup. There is no guarantee that you will receive the camel you chose. Think about the effects of a long journey on the camel. Is that what you want for a camel? You can only import from within the EU. Expect to pay £10K for a camel. Finding an experienced, honest and reliable person to train your camel will be very difficult and expensive.
Consider the implications of buying an untrained young camel that has been taken away from its herd. A two year old male camel weighs over half a ton and stands 6 – 7 feet tall. They kick, spit and bite ferociously if not handled correctly. If you don't handle your camel what will happen when you need to do routine care such as worming and injections, trimming their nails or when accidents happen? Do you have a vet locally who can deal with camels and is your untrained camel going to need to be anaesthetised every time you worm it?
For veterinary help contact the British Veterinary Camelid Society (www.camelidvets.org) or your local zoo/safari park that keeps camels.
For further information or advice please visit www.jacamels.co.uk.