A camel is either of the two species of large even-
toed ungulate in the genus Camelus, the Drom-
edary (single hump) and the Bactrian Camel
(double hump). Both are native to the dry and
desert areas of Asia and northern Africa. The
average life expectancy of a camel is 30 to 50
years. The term camel is also used more broadly,
to describe any of the six camel-like creatures in
the family Camelidae: the two true camels, and
the four South American camelids: Llama,
Alpaca, Guanaco and Vicuña.

The name camel comes via the Greek kámelos
from the Arabic jamal or the Hebrew gahmal, all meaning "camel".

Bactrian camels have two coats: the warm inner coat of down and a rough outer coat which is long and hairy. They shed their fiber in clumps consisting of both coats and is normally gathered. They produce about 5 pounds (2 kg) of fiber annually. The fiber structure is similar to cashmere wool. The down is usually 1-3 inches (2 to 8 cm) long. Camel down does not felt easily. The down is spun into yarn for knitting.

Humans first domesticated camels approximately 5,000 years ago. The Dromedary and the Bactrian Camel are both still used for milk (which is more nutritious than cow's milk), meat, and as beasts of burden—the Dromedary in northern Africa and western Asia; the Bactrian Camel further to the north and east in central Asia.

Distribution and numbers

Although there are almost 13 million Dromedaries alive today, the species is extinct in the wild: all but a handful are domesticated animals (mostly in Sudan, Somalia, India and nearby countries), as well as South Africa, Namibia and Botswana. There is, however, a substantial feral population estimated at 700,000 in central parts of Australia, descended from individuals that escaped from captivity in the late 19th century. This population is growing at approximately 11% per year and in recent times the state government of South Australia has decided to cull the animals using aerial marksmen, the reason being that the camels use too much of the limited resources needed by sheep farmers.

The Bactrian Camel once had an enormous range, but is now reduced to an estimated 1.4 million animals, mostly domesticated. It is thought that there are about 1000 wild Bactrian Camels in the Gobi Desert, and small numbers in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and Russia.

A small population of introduced camels, Dromedaries and Bactrians, survived in the Southwest United States until the 1900s . These animals, imported from Turkey, were part of the US Camel Corps experiment and used as draft animals in mines, and escaped or were released after the project fell through.

Camel hybrids

Bactrian camel have two humps and are rugged cold-climate camels while Dromedaries have one hump and are desert dwellers. Dromedary hybrids are called Bukhts, are larger than either parent, have a single hump and are good draft camels. The females can be mated back to a Bactrian to produce ¾-bred riding camels. These hybrids are found in Kazakhstan.

The Cama is a camel/llama hybrid bred by scientists who wanted to see how closely related the parent species were. The Dromedary Camel is six times the weight of a Llama, hence artificial insemination was required to impregnate the Llama female (Llama male to Dromedary female have proven unsuccessful). Though born even smaller than a Llama calf, the Cama had the short ears and long tail of a camel, no hump and Llama-like cloven hooves rather than the Dromedary-like pads. At four years old, the Cama became sexually mature and interested in Llama and Guanaco females. A second Cama (female) has since been produced using artificial insemination. Because Camels and Llamas both have 74 chromosomes, scientists hope that the Cama will be fertile. If so, there is potential for increasing size, meat/wool yield and pack/draft ability in South American camels. The Cama apparently inherited the poor temperament of both parents as well as demonstrating the relatedness of the New World and Old World camelids.

Adaptations to desert environment

Camels are well known for their humps. They do not, however, literally store water in them as is commonly believed, though they do serve this purpose through roundabout means. Their humps are a reservoir of fatty tissue, while water is stored in their blood. However, when this tissue is metabolized, it is not only a source of energy, but yields through reaction with oxygen from the air 1111 g of water per 1000 g of fat. This allows them to survive without water for about two weeks, and without food for up to a month.

Their red blood cells have an oval shape, unlike those of other mammals, which are circular. This is to facilitate their flow in a dehydrated state. These cells are also more stable, in order to withstand high osmotic variation without rupturing, when drinking large amounts of water.

Camels are able to withstand changes in body temperature and water content that would kill most other animals. Their temperature ranges from 34̊C (93̊F) at night up to 41̊C (106̊F) at day; only above this threshold they start to sweat. This allows them to preserve about five liters of water a day. However, they can withstand at least 25% weight loss due to sweating.

The thick coat reflects sunlight. A shaved camel has to sweat 50% more to avoid overheating. It also insulates them from the intense heat that radiates from hot desert sand. Their long legs also help with this by keeping them further away from the sand.

Their mouth is very sturdy, to be able to eat thorny desert plants. Long eyelashes and ear hairs, together with sealable nostrils prevent sand from entering. Their pace (always moving both legs of one side at the same time) and their widened feet help them move without sinking in.
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