Our Camel Beginnings
In the late 1980s we began to acquire our herd of dromedaries in order to begin our breeding program. First to arrive from Australia were eight females. They were around six months old when they arrived, and we named them Bonnie, Chantilly, Julienne, Mavis, Robin, Sheila, and Simone. Not long after their arrival, we were most fortunate to acquire George, the son of renowned Khartoum, a white bull out of Art Stehly’s herd in California. Khartoum was a very large camel whose hump measured 12 feet from the ground. George’s mother Mona, exceptionally large as well, was also born on the Stehly ranch. George was born in 1990, and in his life of 21 years, he sired over 150 offspring. Through the years, buyers came to us because they specifically wanted a camel with his conformation.
In 2005 we began our Bactrian camel breeding program. On July 27, 2005, our first Bactrians arrived, and we named them Beatrice and Buttercup. Next to arrive in August 2006 were Snowflake and Sweetpea (formerly Ginger). As her name suggests, Snowflake is pure white. The last three to arrive in August 2007 were our new white Bactrian bull, Smokey Joe, and two white females, Angel and Nellie. These last three came to us from the well-known breeder Al Deutsch, whose breeding of Bactrians covers some 30 years and whose largest herd at one time numbered 76. Today, Smokey Joe and his females are happily producing offspring of fine temperament and excellent health and conformation.
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Scientists believe that camels originated in North America at least 40 million years ago. Before the Ice Age, camels had developed into a distinct species and had moved westward across Alaska to western Asia. In Asia, two groups separated and gradually became the two species of the Camelus genus known today: the dromedary and the Bactrian. Meanwhile, smaller members of the camel family had moved southward from North to South America. Today, alpacas, guanacos, llamas, and vicuñas live in South America. By the time Europeans arrived in North America, all camels had disappeared, but the reason is unknown.
The one-humped dromedary camel is sometimes referred to as the Arabian camel because of Arabia’s major role in domesticating the camel. The term dromedary is derived from the Greek word meaning fast or swift, but in modern usage the word has come to mean a one-humped camel. Though most often regarded as a one-humped camel, the dromedary really has two humps, but the underdeveloped anterior hump sits over the shoulders, and the large rear hump is found in the center of the back, both merging together almost seamlessly to appear as one hump.
All true wild dromedaries are extinct. They were domesticated between 4,000 and 2,000 BCE for travel, meat and milk, and running, and became extinct in the wild around 2000 years ago.
Dromedaries were introduced into the southwestern United States in the middle of the 19th century for surveying work on a transcontinental railway, a project known as the US Army Camel Experiment. With the outbreak of the American Civil War, however, many of the camels were sold to private owners, and others escaped into the desert throughout the West and British Columbia. Feral populations survived until the early 1900s.
Noted present-day cameleer Doug Baum of the Texas Camel Corps takes his camels throughout Texas year-round to educate the public on the historic use of camels in America in the 19th century. He conducts camel treks, historic reenactments and school, library, zoo, and museum programs.
An easy way to remember that the Bactrian camel has two humps is to rotate the letter B, the first letter of the word Bactrian, so that it sits flat, and you will see the two “humps.”
The Bactrian camel was domesticated at least 4,500 years ago in the ancient land of Bactria, which today is northern Afghanistan. Their use as draft and pack animals spread into China, where they formed the main source of transportation on the Silk Road. The Bactrian is shorter and heavier than the dromedary and has longer and generally thicker hair. They are well suited for cold climates with rugged terrain. With their shorter legs and stout bodies they can walk over slippery surfaces that dromedary camels can't handle. Their extra-large feet spread wide to allow them to travel efficiently through the desert, and their thick carpet-like hair keeps them warm in -40°F temperatures.
This camel is most likely the ancestor of all domestic two-humped camels and is superbly adapted to life in the harsh Gobi Desert, one of the most hostile and fragile regions on the planet. The species can withstand drought, food shortages, and even radiation from nuclear weapons testing.
The wild camel is the eighth most endangered large mammal on the planet. Classified as Critically Endangered, these animals continue to be threatened by hunting, habitat loss, and competition for resources with introduced livestock. There are approximately 650 in the Gobi desert in northwest China and 450 in the desert in Mongolia. The Wild Camel Protection Foundation is the only charity in the world with the specific mission to save this remarkable, shy creature from extinction.
Facts and figures courtesy of Camels: A Compendium by Manefield and Tinson; The Camel: Its Evolution, Ecology, Behavior, and Relationship to Man by Gauthier-Pilters & Dagg, 1981; “Marvels of the Desert” by Saihati; and websites Camelphotos.com, wildcamels.com, ultimateungulate.com, and library.sandiegozoo.org/factsheet.htm.
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