Old World Camels

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Old World Camels
Dromedary (Camelus dromedarius)

Dromedary ( Camelus dromedarius )

Subclass : Higher mammals (Eutheria)
Superordinate : Laurasiatheria
Order : Artiodactyla (Artiodactyla)
Subordination : Callus soles (Tylopoda)
Family : Camels (Camelidae)
Genre : Old World Camels
Scientific name
Linnaeus , 1758
Trample ( Camelus bactrianus )

The Camel ( Camelus ) are a mammalian species , which is divided into two types: the Trampeltier or Bactrian camel ( C. bactrianus ), which is characterized by two protuberances, and the dromedary ( C. dromedarius ), which has only a bump. Even though these animals are colloquially often simply as "camels," as part of the zoological family of Camels (Camelidae) also in South America living Neuweltkamele ( guanaco , llama , alpaca and vicuna ).

The similarity of the desert and the sea in their vastness and hostility to life as well as the rocking nature of their gait gave the old world camels the nickname desert ship , since for a long time they were only able to travel the desert with camels as a means of transport.



Old World camels differ from their New World relatives at first glance by the presence of humps and the larger dimensions. They reach a head torso length of 225 to 345 centimeters, a shoulder height of 180 to 230 centimeters and a weight of 300 to 700 kilograms. The tail is relatively short at 35 to 55 centimeters. The color of their fur varies from dark brown to beige and sand gray. While dromedaries have a relatively short fur, the hair of the trample is very long, especially in the winter months - in spring there is an abrupt change of coat, which makes the animals look disheveled.

The legs of the old world camels are comparatively long. The feet have two toes that have calloused pads instead of hooves. Like all camels, these animals touch the ground with the penultimate and last link of their toes. They do not have hoof shells, but rather curved nails, which only protect the front edge of the feet. The toes rest on an elastic pad made of connective tissue that forms a wide sole surface.

These animals have a long neck on which an elongated head sits. The upper lip is split, the eyes have large lids with long eyelashes and the nostrils can be closed as protection from the weather. The stomach is made as with all camels of several chambers together, which facilitates the digestion of plant food.

Storage of food and water

Camel caravan

In order to be able to cross large areas of desert areas without water or food, Old World camels must be able to store large amounts of water and food. The animals store fat in their humps for periods of starvation, with the help of which they can go without food for up to 30 days. They store their water supply, which can amount to between 100 and 150 liters and is sufficient for a period of thirst of up to two weeks, in the stomach system. When filling up their water reservoir, Old World camels show an enormous absorption capacity. You manage to drink and store over 100 liters of water at once within ten minutes. According to eyewitness reports, the camel keepers also forcibly water the animals before traveling.

The formation of water when fat reserves are burned out of the hump is often emphasized as a special characteristic for the camel. In fact, the continuous production of energy from foods of all kinds creates water as a by-product that benefits the body's own water balance. For every 1000 kJ of released energy, z. B. from fat approx. 28 g and from carbohydrates approx. 35 g water. However, this applies to every living being, including humans, that burns organic material with oxygen and is therefore by no means a camel-typical peculiarity. The widespread notion that a thirsty camel could quickly burn a few kg of fat in order to supply the body with some water again does not correspond to reality. Burning 1 kg of fat may produce a. approx. 1.1 kg of water and an amount of energy of approx. 39,000 kJ (approx. 9,300 kcal) is released, of which at least approx. 31,000 kJ is in the form of thermal energy (the rest possibly as work done by the camel). To dissipate this amount of energy, at least approx. 14 kg of water must be evaporated.

Regulation of body temperature


Old World camels prevent the threat of overheating of their bodies, like other warm-blooded animals, by means of the evaporation of water . In order to keep the inevitable water loss as low as possible, the old world camels have additional adaptations to their habitat. This includes in particular their ability, which is unusual for warm-blooded animals, to change their body temperature to a certain extent. At night, without having to evaporate water, a camel can release heat energy directly into the cold night air and in this way lower its body temperature to 34 ° C. During the day, it increases its body temperature to up to 41 ° C, which corresponds to an amount of heat of around 12,000 kJ (approx. 3,000  kcal ) for a 500 kg camel  . In order to dissipate the same amount of heat through water evaporation, the animal would theoretically have to consume about 5 liters, actually an even larger amount of water. The camel only uses its special ability to vary its body temperature when there is a lack of water; when there is sufficient water supply, it keeps its body temperature constant. The camel's fur also helps save water. The strong sunlight during the day is largely absorbed in the outer layers of the fur and converted into heat. This outer layer is heated to temperatures that are higher than the air temperature. Therefore some of the thermal energy can be released into the ambient air. The remaining heat energy can only slowly penetrate the camel's body due to the thermal insulation through the deeper layers of fur. If, on the other hand, the solar radiation hits the bare camel skin directly, it has to be cooled more in order to maintain a skin-friendly temperature. This is why a shorn camel loses around 50% more water through sweating than an unshaven camel . Further mechanisms to minimize water loss are particularly strong thickening of the urine by the kidneys and particularly strong water removal from the faeces in the rectum. Camel dung can allegedly be used immediately as fuel without further drying.

Bactrian camel in the Frankfurt Zoo

The idea circulating in some publications that the water vapor of the exhaled air is used for cooling is nonsensical. On the contrary, when water vapor is converted into liquid water, a considerable amount of heat is released which the camel would have to dissipate again.

Also wrong is the notion that a camel's red blood cells (erythrocytes) can enlarge 200 times their volume to hold water. However, the water is stored in the stomach system. A significant increase in the size of the red blood cells would drastically impair the flow properties of the blood, especially in the capillaries. More plausible are reports that the red blood cells of camels, deviating from the usual shape, are shaped like rugby balls. It is believed that this means that the blood's ability to flow is better preserved in the event of strong thickening due to a lack of water. These specially shaped red blood cells should be able to expand to about 240 to 250% of their normal volume.

Further adaptations to the desert habitat

Head of a dromedary

Since sandstorms occur again and again in desert areas , the animals also have to protect themselves from these conditions. They have extremely long eyelashes that cover the eyes and keep the sand out. In addition, their ears are covered with long hair and they can close their nostrils so that no sand can enter here either. Due to their passage , in which they always move both legs on one side together, and their very wide feet, they can also move easily on deep, soft sand.


In their domesticated form, the two species of Old World camels are common in large parts of Africa and Asia . Dromedaries can be found in northern Africa (up to approx. 1 ° south latitude), on the Arabian Peninsula and in Central Asia . They were also introduced to Australia in the 19th century , where they quickly conquered the outback and where there is now a population of at least 50,000 animals. Trample are widespread from Asia Minor to Manchuria .

Domesticated trample in China

The dromedary became extinct in its wild form, probably around the turn of the century at the latest. Its area of ​​origin is likely to have been in the south of the Arabian Peninsula, although it is not yet clear whether there was a wild species of the dromedary or whether there was a common predecessor of the camel and the dromedary. Wild Bactrian camel populations there are still in Chinese Xinjiang and in Mongolia , where around 950 specimens live in three separate populations.

There are a total of around 19 million Old World camels, 14.5 million of which live in Africa, seven million in Somalia and 3.3 million in Sudan .

Way of life

In contrast to their South American relatives, the New World camels, the two camel species of the Old World inhabit the driest areas on earth. They are desert survivors , where few large mammals are able to survive. Old world camels have perfected the adaptation to this hostile environment (see also characteristics above ).

Old World camels are diurnal and mostly live in harem groups in the wild, which consist of a male, several females and the common offspring. Adolescent males evicted from their birth group often form bachelor groups. For leadership in a harem group there can be bitter fights between two males.


Dromedary with young animal

Old world camels are herbivores. They feed mainly by grazing on leaves from tree and shrub species and from dwarf shrubs ("browser"). The thick, soft, long, movable lips and the lining of the oral cavity allow grazing even through the sharp thorns of plants protected by the sharp thorns. It is known that camels also eat plants that taste bitter or contain high levels of phytochemicals and that are spurned by most other herbivores. They have a very high salt requirement and graze a lot of salt plants , which are often common in deserts , especially salt herbs ( Salsola ) and logs ( Atriplex ), which as succulents also have a higher water content. Acacias are important as food everywhere in their area of ​​distribution . Unless restricted by humans, camels roam large spaces, can travel more than 50 kilometers a day in search of food, and feed on a wide variety of species. When the food is cheap, they eat beyond their immediate needs in order to replenish the fat stores in their humps; this may be sufficient to keep an animal alive for up to 6 months without food. Old world camels also feed on grass to a certain extent if there is an appropriate supply; if they are kept in pasture, they can feed on almost pure grass fodder if they are kept in stalls and fed on hay. So you are quite opportunistic in your food choices. According to anecdotal reports, they even occasionally eat charcoal or material of animal origin such as bones. However, the ingestion of waste materials often leads to the death of the animals, as they cannot excrete the substances again. Camels can also use salty, brackish water if necessary .


After a relatively long gestation period of 360 to 440 days, the female usually gives birth to a single young. This is fleeing from the nest and can walk independently within a very short time. It is weaned after about a year and sexually mature after two to three years. Old world camels can live to be 40 to 50 years old.

Old world camels and people


The properties of camels are of course also beneficial for people in the desert regions, so it is not surprising that both species of Old World camel were domesticated as early as the third millennium BC (over 5,500 years ago) and that humans have been using them as pets ever since . In the Emirates, the use of camels has been proven to extend to 2600 BC. BC back. The domestication of the Asiatic trample, which is adapted to the slightly more humid and slightly cooler weather of the Asiatic steppe, took place around the same time.

Old World camels appear to have originally been domesticated primarily as a milk supplier. In Somalia this use predominates to this day. The use as a source of meat and leather, as well as the use of wool, developed a little later. Even their dung , dried, is used as fuel in the resource-poor environment. Until about 1500 BC The donkey was used almost exclusively as a transport animal in the area where the camels lived. The use of the camel as a pack animal initially required the development of a suitable saddle. This had to hold the load even with the swaying movement of the camel and distribute it evenly on the camel's back. Between 1300 and 100 BC In BC, nomadic Arab ethnic groups developed a carrying saddle adapted for the camel, which allowed an average of about 250 kilograms to be transported on a camel's back. This saddle shape has been in use almost unchanged for more than 2,000 years. In addition to their use as pack animals, camels were also used as mounts for war missions. In Upper Egypt, for example, 2,000 years ago, departments of dromedary riders were used for border protection.

In Asia, the trample did not achieve the importance that the dromedary gained in the Arab world. The yak dominated the Central Asian plateaus , sheep that supplied milk and wool, as well as domestic cattle and water buffalo could be kept in most of the Asian region. Dromedaries, on the other hand, were used in a growing area. The dromedary was used more and more in Syria , Iraq , Iran and later India . Where the two species met, they began to cross with each other. Due to the heterosis effect , the F1 hybrids were characterized by a higher level of performance, which was lost in subsequent crosses. Agriculture developed along the Silk Road that specialized in breeding such hybrids. Mostly it was a trample stallion, which was used to cover dromedary mares, since trample were numerically rarer than dromedaries.

So many different breeds were bred according to their use. Three races of the trample are known: the astrakhan, the Buryat-Mongolian and the Kazakh trample. There are innumerable breeds of dromedaries. That is why the animals were settled over almost all deserts on earth, even as far as Australia , where they were introduced in the 19th century.

Old World Camels in Culture

Viennese Genesis . Rebekka meets Eliezer while she is watering the camels at the well, 6th century.

Old World camels (usually simply referred to as "camels" in common parlance) play an important role as important pack animals and farm animals.

For example, the biblical person Rebekah is often depicted with camels. The Old Testament reports that she and the servants were busy watering the camels at the well when she met Eliezer , the courtier of her future husband Isaac . This scene is shown, for example, in the illuminated manuscript Wiener Genesis from the 6th century. There are camels on this representation.

The biblical statement of the camel in the eye of a needle is also known : "A camel is more likely to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man enters the kingdom of God" ( Mk 10:25). This statement could be traced back to a translation error or a typographical error, since the word kamilos denotes a “ship's rope ”, but this is mostly doubted in New Testament exegesis and the reading kámêlos (“camel”) is considered original.

In the Arabic-speaking world , old- world camels have been respected since ancient Arabic poetry from the 6th century and in numerous passages in the Koran . They have appeared in the visual arts of the western world since the early Middle Ages . This is mainly due to the mentions of camels in the Bible .

In the Western understanding, camels have a rather bad reputation and have even entered the dirty vocabulary. The opposite is the case in Asia. For nomads in Mongolia, for example, the camel was and is not the most economically important breeding animal after the horse, but culturally it is.

The oldest surviving Chinese source on camel medicine is the eighth chapter of the Fan-mu tsuan yen-fang ("Summary of Effective Recipes for Successful Cattle Breeding"), which was compiled from older texts by Wang Yü during the Northern Song Dynasty (960–1126) . The work has survived as a print from the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). This contains 34 numbered recipes from the original 48, the missing recipes could be reconstructed in other ways. Next to each recipe is a woodcut on which a trample shows the symptoms.


The old world camels form a genus within the family of camels (Camelidae), where they represent the sister taxon of the New World camels (genera Lamas ( Lama ) and Vikunjas ( Vicugna )). Dromedaries and trample can be crossed with each other , hybrids are called tulus or bukhts . They are larger than either parent and have either a single, elongated, or a larger and a smaller hump. In Kazakhstan, female animals that are paired with a camel are used as riding camels.

Old World camels were also crossed with llamas by insemination . The resulting hybrids were called "Camas" by the responsible scientists.


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  • Ronald M. Nowak: Walker's Mammals of the World . 6th edition. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore 1999, ISBN 0-8018-5789-9 (English).
  • Chris Lavers: Why elephants have big ears - on the trail of the ingenious blueprint of animals. Gustav Lübbe Verlag, Bergisch Gladbach 2001, ISBN 3-7857-2047-5 .
  • Manfred Pichler, Willy Puchner : The clouds of the desert. A cultural history of the camels. ISBN 3-89416-150-7 .

Web links

Commons : Old World Camels ( Camelus )  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. FAOSTAT 2005, the FAO , the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
  2. ^ DMR Newman: The Feeds an Feeding Habits of Old and New World Camels. In: W. Ross Cockrill (editor): The Camelid, an all-purpose animal. Proceedings of the Karthoum Workshop on Camels, December 1979, Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, Uppsala 1984, ISBN 91-7106-228-9 , pp. 250-292.
  3. Arshad Iqbal & Bakht Baidar Khan: Feeding Behavior of Camel. Review. In: Pakistan Journal of Agricultural Sciences. 38 (3-4), 2001, pp. 58-63.
  4. M. Lechner Doll, WV Engelhardt, AM Abbas, HM Mousa, L. Luciano, E. Reale: Particularities in forestomach anatomy, physiology and biochemistry of camelids compared to ruminants. In: J.-L. Tisserand (editor): Elevage et alimentation du dromadaire. Options Méditerranéennes: Série B. Etudes et Recherches. No. 13, 1995, 19-32.
  5. ^ H. Gauthier-Pilters & A. Dagg: The Camel: Its Evolution, Ecology, Behavior and Relationship to Man. University of Chicago Press 1981, ISBN 0226284530 , quoted from Arshad Iqbal & Bakht Baidar Khan: Feeding Behavior of Camel. Review. In: Pakistan Journal of Agricultural Sciences. 38 (3-4), 2001, p. 59.
  6. Marc Breulmann, Benno Böer, Ulrich Wernery, Renate Wernery, Hassan El Shaer, Ghaleb Alhadrami, David Gallacher, John Peacock, Shaukat Ali Chaudhary, Gary Brown, John Norton: The Camel: From Tradition to Modern Times. Published in 2007 by the UNESCO Office in Doha, online (PDF; 1.5 MB).
  7. E. Mukasa-Mugerwa: The Camel (Camelus dromedarius): A Bibliographical Review. ILCA Pub., 1981, ISBN 92-9053-013-8 , p. 47.
  8. Grzimek's encyclopedia of mammals. Volume 5, McGraw-Hill, 1990, ISBN 0-0790-9508-9 , p. 96.
  9. ^ WL Franklin: Family Camelidae. In: Don E. Wilson and Russell A. Mittermeier (eds.): Handbook of the Mammals of the World. Volume 2: Hooved Mammals. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona 2011, ISBN 978-84-96553-77-4 , pp. 206-246.
  10. ^ William Bernstein: A Splendid Exchange - How Trade Shaped the World. Atlantic Books, London 2009, ISBN 978-1-84354-803-4 , p. 56.
  11. ^ William Bernstein: A Splendid Exchange - How Trade shaped the World , Atlantic Books, London 2009, ISBN 978-1-84354-803-4 , pp. 56 and 57.
  12. a b Bernd Brunner : The camel: genius with humps. The horse of the desert. In: G / Geschichte , No. 01/2018, pp. 62–65, here p. 64.
  13. ^ A b William Bernstein: A Splendid Exchange - How Trade Shaped the World. Atlantic Books, London 2009, ISBN 978-1-84354-803-4 , p. 57.
  14. ^ Otgonbayar Chuluunbaatar: The Camel and its Symbolism in the Daily Life of the Mongols with Particular Reference to their Folk Songs. In: Eva-Maria Knoll, Pamela Burger (Ed.): Camels in Asia and North Africa. Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, Vienna 2012, ISBN 978-3-7001-7244-4 , pp. 95-105.
  15. ^ Herbert Franke : On traditional camel medicine in China . In: Sudhoff's archive. Volume 81, Issue 1, 1997, pp. 84-98.