Thursday, November 25, 2010

Bactrian and Dromedary Camels

I recently had the treat of taking a day off to spend with my granddaughters at the Living Desert in Palm Desert. While there, I could not pass up the opportunity to ride a camel. There were two camels: one was a dromedary camel with one hump
and the other was a Bactrian camel with two humps (although the two humps were not visible as they were covered with a blanket). We got to ride the Bactrian camel.
The Bactrian camel is native to the steppes of central Asia. There are about 1.4 million Bactrian camels alive today and all but about 800 are domesticated. The 800 wild Bactrian camels are found in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and the Taklimakan Desert of Xinjiang, China. These wild camels are critically endangered. Bactrian camels grow a thick coat of hair each winter to deal with the extreme temperature variations they encounter: summer highs of over 100 degrees and winters that can have significant snow. The thick coat of hair falls off each summer. By contrast, the Dromedary camel has a uniform length of hair year round. Bactrian camels are more mild-mannered than the dromedary camels. Dromedaries are known for being bad tempered and will spit and kick. The Bactrian camel is larger than the dromedary. The carcass of a male Bactrian can weigh up to 1,400 pounds, while that of a dromedary about 900 pounds. The Bactrian is stockier and hardier, able to survive from Iran to Tibet, but the dromedary is taller, faster and more durable. A loaded Bactrian can move at about 2.5 miles per hour while a loaded dromedary can maintain 8 to 9 miles per hour for hours at a time. 

The dromedary camel is probably native to the Arabian Peninsula and is found widely in North Africa and the Middle East. There are no wild dromedary camels, but there are significant numbers of feral dromedary camels (over 1,000,000) in Australia, domesticated camels that have gone wild. My grandfather, Edwin Q. Cannon, visited Egypt in 1910
and we have several pictures of him riding a dromedary camel there.
When we were in Beijing, China several years ago, we had a dish of sweet and sour camel.
I am assuming it was Bactrian camel meat as the Bactrian camel is native to China. In countries where camels are common, camel meat is widely eaten. Because of the way it was prepared, I would not have noticed any difference between the camel meat and pork. Someday I would love to try it again, with less sauce, getting the unvarnished version. Our niece, Lisa DeLong, often travels to the Middle East with her work for the Prince's College. She sent us some camel milk chocolate
which I assume would have been made from dromedary milk (based on the picture and the location). There again, it was just good chocolate - I would never have known a camel was involved in the process.
We visited Africa in May 2014 and while we were driving in northern Kenya, not too far from Buffalo Springs National Reserve, we saw a large group of bactrian camels being herded off the side of the road. We were able to get a few pictures before the angry herders tried to approach us to demand money for taking the photos. 

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