Afghan Arabia Wild
Sometimes you see an animal so often that its uniqueness wears off. Camels are like that in Saudi Arabia. There are so many of them - over one million the country - and they are so ubiquitous that the novelty quickly fades. You see them in the city, in the country, in camel markets (souks), and wandering alongside roads in suburban neighborhoods. I've never been to the desert and failed to see at least one herd. And when you are not in direct sight of these animals the evidence of their presence is right at your feet in tracks, dung, and nibbled vegetation. Inevitably the camels, and their herder, has blazed a trail long before you arrived. But it is a mistake to ignore these remarkable creatures. These wondrous mammals are a trademark of the desert and Saudi Arabia as much as the horse is to America and the old west. And that's why Camelus dromedarius has earned its own web page. Read on and I think you'll agree.
To the left a group of camels feeding. On the right a close up shot of the thorny bush they were munching. How'd you like to make a salad out of that?
The camels of Saudi are Dromedaries, the one humped variety. They have been raised and domesticated for thousands of years, but camels have maintained an amazing ability to thrive in the wild. The enormous feral population that roams the arid interior of Australia is probably the most famous, but the wild camels of both varieties that live throughout the rest of the world will never be known for sure.
The photos above and below nicely illustrate the differences between Camelus dromedarius and Camelus bactrianus. The heavier body and denser fur of the two humped Bactrian mark it as an animal of colder climates. Superbly adapted for desert heat, Dromedaries can actually tolerate body temperature swings from 93°F to 106°F (34C to 41C). Above this temperature range the animals do perspire - not a good thing for a desert animal that relies on water conservation to survive. Camel hair, although it may look terribly uncomfortable in the shimmering heat, provides further protection against the sun. No matter how hot it is over here I've yet to see one of them display the least bit of discomfort. I have seen them resting comfortably on blacktop roads when the temperature was well into the 100s. The long legs and exposed underbelly of the dromedary is an adaptation that allows dissipation of body heat.
The famous hump does is, of course, not a great bag of water. It is mainly a storage area of fatty tissue that is held in reserve, but when metabolized it yields water as well as energy from the fat. Although they are capable of drinking enormous amounts of water in a short time a camel is able to get all the water it needs from the vegetation it eats. I've witnessed Bedouins leading herds many miles out in the desert, and there was certainly no water available, but the camels were grazing easily on scrubby plants that looked as dry as straw. Camels are also able to store very concentrated forms of urine, so much so that their urine is a syrupy like mixture. Their nostrils are designed to conserve water vapor and they can survive losses of body fluids of up to 25% without any affect on their blood flow.
Your everyday camel traffic jam - a common Saudi sight.
Here are a couple of nice photos that not only show a camel herder at work, but also display the color variations of the Saudi Camel. The black colored variety are called "Majahim," the reddish colored animals are called "Humur," and the white camels are called "Maghatir." Other color types are blue and yellow. Note the rope around the legs of the camel nearest the herder used to restrict the movement of the animal. This fellow is probably the dominant male ("Jamal") of the herd. Cows are called "Naquah."
Here is a great desert survival tip by the way. If you ever happen to get lost out there look for a herd and find the Bedouin. He'll tell you how to get back to civilization. (This is based on personal experience. Another great survival tip: don't go out in the desert without a functioning GPS or a compass and a map!)
In addition to other surprises camels have a relatively long life, fifty to sixty years as compared to the twenty or so for a horse. And in another comparison to horses, consider racing. The Kentucky Derby is aptly called the "Fastest two minutes in sports." That's because the standard race track is about a mile long. Not so with camel races where the course is six to ten miles long! That brings up a point I want to make concerning the camels foot. Writers always mention the wide cushion design of the camel's foot that makes it so adaptable to walking in soft desert sand. Well, that is true. But most of the desert over here is not soft sand. It's not soft anything. Most of the Saudi desert floor is hard, brittle rock, lava crusts, and ancient fossil beds of coral from the sea that dried up twenty five million years ago. In between there are prickly, spiny, and thorny little bushes. That camel foot is capable of comfortably striding over all of this excruciating terrain with ease.