Bactrian Camel

Camelus bactrianus

The Bactrian camel is native to the steppes of Central Asia. Of the two species of camel, it is by far the rarer.

The wild form has dwindled to a population estimated at 800 in October 2002 and has been classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back. It is the largest mammal in its native range. Bactrian camels are exceptionally adept at withstanding wide variations in temperature – ranging from freezing cold to blistering heat.

They have a remarkable ability to go without water for months at a time, but when water is available they may drink up to 57 liters at once. When well fed, the humps are plump and erect, but as resources decline the humps shrink and lean to the side.

Speeds of up to 65 kilometres per hour (40 mph) have been recorded under extreme pressure but they rarely move this fast. Bactrian camels are also said to be good swimmers. The sense of sight is well developed and the sense of smell is extremely good. It is the largest living camel. Shoulder height is from 180 to 230 cm (5.9 to 7.5 ft), head-and-body length is 225–350 cm (7.38–11.48 ft) and the tail length is 35–55 cm (14–22 in). At the top of the humps, the average height is 213 cm (6.99 ft).

The shaggy winter coat is shed extremely rapidly, with huge sections peeling off at once, appearing as if sloppily shorn off. There are two humps on the back, which are composed of fat (not water as is sometimes thought). The face is typical of a camelid, being long and somewhat triangular, with a split upper lip.

There are long eyelashes, which, along with the sealable nostrils, help to keep out dust in the frequent sandstorms which occur in their natural range. The two broad toes on each foot have undivided soles and are able to spread widely as an adaptation to walking on sand.

The feet are very tough, as befits an animal of extreme environments.