Monday, September 3, 2012

The camel is still the best mode of transport in a desert

The Camel is one of nature’s creations that is quite ugly with a lump on its back which is just an ugly, meaningless lump for most of us. However, how many of us know that the camel was considered to be the ship of the desert and is still the preferred mode of transport? Let’s try to know something more about this rather clumsy four legged freak.
A camel is an even-toed ungulate, meaning that its weight is borne by the third and fourth toes, unlike a horse which is odd-toed. One distinctive feature of a camel is the huge lump on its back which is called a hump. The hump contains nothing but fatty deposits that act as reserves to draw upon in times of need.There are 2 types of camels, the dromedary or Arabian camel has a single lump whereas the Bactrian has two of them. The Dromedaries are native to the dry desert areas of West Asia and the Bactrian camels are found in Central and East Asian deserts. Both the species have been domesticated and used extensively for travelling and transporting goods across the desert. Their meat is considered a delicacy and the milk is a good source of protein and good to make cheese.

The life span of a camel is 40 to 50 years. A fully grown adult male can grow up to a height of 1.85 m at the shoulder and 2.15 m at the hump which is the highest point and can raise more than a couple of feet from the body. A fully grown camel can weigh up to 700 kg and is capable of running at about 65 km/h in short bursts and at a steady 40 km/h for longer distances. It is believed that these animals were domesticated over 4000 years ago by the people of ancient Somalia. The estimates are that the dromedaries could number around 14 million all of them domesticated, whereas the numbers of the Bactrian camels have reduced to about one and a half million with a few thousands wild in the Gobi desert. The nomadic people of Somalia and Ethiopia depend heavily on the camel for their transportation needs and for the milk and meat that helps in sustaining their lives. The camel plays an important part in the lives of all these desert dwellers.
A popular misconception is that the camel stores water in its hump. The humps actually contain fatty tissue which helps in surviving in the harsh desert climate. When this fat is metabolized, it acts as a source of energy and can yield 1 gm of water for every gram of fat, which is probably the reason for the misconception. Having adapted themselves to the hot desert climate, the camels can go without water for long periods. The only reason why they do not suffer dehydration is the oval shape of their red blood cells ensures smooth flow even after dehydration sets in due to lack of water. The cells are conditioned to remain stable even there is enough water. A camel can drink up to 100 to 150 litres of water at one go. These type of oval RBC’s are not found in any other mammals.
The camels have a tough outer hide that is covered by coarse hair. This enables the camel to withstand extreme desert temperatures that can drop as low as 34 degrees C and higher than 45 degrees. The camel starts sweating only when the temperature goes above 40 degrees C. There could be days when a camel never perspires. The nostrils of a camel are adapted in such a manner that water vapor present in exhaled air is not lost but trapped and recycled back into the body and loss of moisture by respiration is greatly reduced. The camel’s heart remains unaffected even when 25% of the body weight is lost due to dehydration. When a camel eats green foliage, the moisture contained therein is sufficient and it does not need to wash down the fodder with a drink of water.
Camels have been used extensively in wars in Africa and the Middle East. However, by nature the camel is quite docile and faithful to its master.

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