Camel Fun Facts and Trivia

At Helen Ziegler & Associates, we are very fond of the Middle East's most famous resident animal: the camel. In fact, we consider camels our unofficial office mascot. Here are a few facts about camels:

  • There are two types of true camels, the one-hump Arabian variety (the dromedary) and the two-hump Asian variety (the Bactrian). So there's your answer Ogden Nash!
  • Camels can travel up to 161 km (100 miles) in the hot desert without water. But contrary to popular misconception, a camel's hump is not filled with water. Instead, it is filled with fat (up to 36 kg, or 80 lbs) that is metabolized for energy and water when needed. As the fat is used up, the hump will become flabby, so if you see a camel with a flabby hump — or no hump at all — feed it, because it is probably very hungry.
  • A thirsty camel can drink 135 litres (30 gallons) in 13 minutes. (I wonder who timed this?)
  • Camels can close their nostrils to keep out sand. They also have two sets of eyelashes to protect their eyes — one shorter (those set nearest to the eyes) and one longer.
  • Camels have big, flat footpads, which allow them to walk on the sand without sinking.
  • Camels are fast! They can run up to 64 kilometers (40 miles) per hour. But they are anything but graceful. They have an uncommon stride, resulting from walking by using the legs on the same side of their body at the same time (giraffes walk like this, too), which creates a swaying motion that can make riders feel seasick. Maybe it's no wonder they have the nickname "ships of the desert."
  • Like cows, camels have a multi-chambered stomach. They need to regurgitate and chew the cud, which is why camels are led around by a rope at the nose or a halter (not a bit and bridle like a horse), in order not to interfere with their chewing.
  • A camel pregnancy can last between 12 and 14 months, depending on the season and the availability of food.
  • Having a camel means all of your needs will be met. You can eat the meat, make clothes with the hair, make shoes with the hide, drink the milk, and fuel a fire with the dung.
  • In the mid-19th century, the US Army briefly used camels to aid in the country's expansion into the southwest part of the continent. Why? Camels easily endure desert heat, are sure-footed, and require less upkeep than horses, but can carry twice what horses can carry. The US Camel Corps was in operation between 1856 and 1866. Reasons given for the end to the use of camels include lack of interest, lack of funds, reports that the camels were spooking other pack animals, and the fact that the railroads were expanding ever westward - so the "iron horse" replaced the camel which had briefly replaced the horse.
  • Twenty-three Bactrian camels were used as pack animals during the few years of the Cariboo Gold Rush in the early 1860s in British Columbia, Canada. Though they didn't last long, their name lives on in the province's Camelsfoot Range and Camelsfoot Peak, and in the city of Lillooet's Bridge of the 23 Camels.
  • North America did once have its own homegrown camels! The camelops is an extinct type of camel that roamed the continent until about 10,000 years ago. Even more surprising to many people, as explained on the US National Parks Service website, "Camels originated in North America about 50 million years ago and their presence in the Old World is a recent event, geologically speaking."
  • And not for the squeamish, a CDC dispatch from 2005, written by two Saudi scientists and one American scientist reported four cases of the bubonic plague contracted by patients who had eaten raw camel liver!
  • Camels have been more than one artist's muse. Indian teacher and poet M.D. Dinesh Nair wrote a laudatory poem about camels, whereas Ogden Nash and Rudyard Kipling wrote children's poems about the animals. While Nash's poem is cute, and the familiar children's rhyme is fun, Kipling insults the camel's looks, and warns us about how we'll look like one (i.e., become lumpy) if we don't get out and exercise.

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