Camel Facts

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Camel Facts

The camels found in the UAE have one hump (unlike the Asian two-humped camel). They are known Arabian camels and have the Latin name Camelus dromedarius. (Dromedary comes from the Greek dromos for ‘road’). They were thought to have been domesticated before 3000 BC in the Arabian Peninsula by frankincense traders. These traders used them when travelling from southern Arabia, where the frankincense is found,  to their markets in the Middle East. Camels became key domestic animals are Arabian culture developed.  .  


An adult camel is about 1.85m at the shoulder and 2.15m at the hump. When fully grown they can weigh up to 700kg. A typical cargo weight is 150kg, but they can carry up to 450kg when required. Camels are usually a sandy colour, but can range from almost white to nearly black.   They can survive 5 – 7 days with little or no food and water and might lose up to 25% of its body weight without a problem. Camels can travel for as long as perhaps two weeks without drinking, but only provided they are trained to it; and if they are at pasture and the grazing is good they can go for long periods without drinking water

Nowadays, camels are usually fed by their owners on grass, oats and even dates, but when grazing they will eat dried leaves, thorny shrubs and whatever they can find. When food is scarce they draw on the fat that is stored in their hump. As they use up this fat, the hump becomes very limp and floppy.  

When they are travelling their normal walking speed is around 3 mph and they can cover distances of about 25 miles a day. However, racing camels can reach speeds of 37 mph when they are at a gallop.

Camels are pregnant for 13 months and usually only have a single calf, although twins are not unknown. After the calf is born it is able to walk within a few hours and they stay with their mothers until they are about 5 years old.  

Camels live for about 40 years and working camels are usually retired when they are about 25. As well as providing transport and milk, the camels moult and this hair, up to 2.25kg, is used to make traditional rugs and tents.


Adaptions to Desert Life

Camels are well adapted to their life in the desert areas that make up a large part of the UAE.

· Their stomach has three compartments and regurgitate and re-chew their food, although they are not really considered as ruminants like cows. This process means that they are very good at extracting protein and energy from the poor quality food that they would find in the desert.

- The hump is not a store of water but fat and can be drawn on when food is unavailable. They can cope with high levels of dehydration, levels that would be lethal in other animals. It manages to survive these high levels of dehydration because it maintains the blood volume needed for circulation at the expense of tissue fluid. When they then have access to water, they can take on large volumes very quickly, but they only absorb it slowly into their systems so that any osmotic problems are avoided.

· Water loss is reduced as they can concentrate their urine until it becomes thick and syrupy and twice as salty as sea water. Water is also removed from their faeces before these are voided and they are so dry that the faeces can be used as fuel immediately. They sweat less as they do not have to sweat to maintain a constant body temperature. They can cope with large changes in body temperature - from 97.7 to 107 degrees C.  

· To cope with the dry, sandy and dusty environment they have a double row of long eyelashes that helps to keep the sand and dust out of their eyes. To shield their eyes from the fierce sun they have very thick eyebrows. Their feet are very broad and when standing the foot's large leathery pads spread out and help to stop the foot sinking into the soft sand. Their ears are lined with hair that traps sand and dust and stops it entering the ear canal. The nose is designed to cool the incoming air and condense moisture from breathe as it breathes out. A camel's mouth is tough with 34 sharp teeth and it can eat thorny shrubs without damage.

All these adaptations leave camels well suited to their life in the harsh environment of the Arabian desert