This post was requested by a reader in response to a picture which I posted on social media. Some posts are a genuine pleasure to write and fulfilling this ‘obligation’ was easy.
Camels are not my favourite animal, but they are certainly way up there, they are just so cool and in many ways seem to signify wilderness. They are known as the ‘ships of the desert’ and are closely associated with this seemingly desolate landscape.
Deserts are evocative destinations, miles and miles of sand, seemingly endless, stretching all the way to the horizon, rolling dunes under clear blue skies. Conjure up a vision of a desert however and it is likely that it will also include a camel.
“their faeces even provide fuel for making fires”
Ideally adapted living in the inhospitable environment of a hot desert, they are also the beast of burden chosen by the nomadic tribes that are equally well adapted to life there.
They are more efficient than the wheel over sand, and have been a favoured choice of transportation since before the ‘Silk Road’. They provide everything the discerning desert dweller needs, transport, meat, the hair can be used for making tents, the milk is considered a herbal medicine, and their faeces even provide fuel for making fires.
Camels play a large part of Bedouin culture and one of the tenets of a desert lifestyle the others being family and fire. The nomadic people respect, care and indeed love their animals, they are highly valued and a bride with a large ‘dowry’ of camels is probably prized over an attractive one.
“goats maybe the preferred currency of choice”
The locals in some North African countries often find it amusing to offer camels in exchange for western women, perhaps on more than one occasion they have seemed a little too sincere. Though camels may be exchanged for brides in some nomadic tribes it is likely that goats maybe the preferred currency of choice.
It may come as a surprise to learn that camels are thought to have originated in North America. Some crossed a land bridge into Asia and Africa; others travelled south evolving into llamas and alpacas. They have spread throughout the world naturally and by introduction, being introduced in Australia from the Canary Islands in the late 19th Century.
Every camel I have ever encountered has always seemed to have a character. It might come as a surprise however to know that the name is derived from the Arabic word ǧml which means ‘beauty’. They are probably better associated with their endearing habit of spitting at those that offend them. The thick ‘green’ contents of their stomach which they expel is far from pleasant, so keeping on a camels good side is recommended.
Camels are now a large part of travel culture; it is almost a ‘right of passage’ for a traveller to have ridden one, a bit like seeing the Coliseum, visiting Egypt or having suffered ‘Delhi belly’. Many nomadic tribes have embraced tourism and offer camel safaris or similar excursions in desert regions. Offers to take a ride for a better view of the pyramids at Giza or even just around the Old Market in Sharm el Sheik are now almost too easy to find. It is just another manner in which they have exploited to part tourists with their cash.
“a little more than a bruised ego though”
Taking a camel ride is not as easy as it may seem though as a few travellers have discovered, ending up as an undignified heap in the sand. Failing to lean back at the right moment may leave a little more than a bruised ego.
Camels are remarkable creatures, and whilst they may not seem particularly endearing or affectionate, witness a camel wrangler with their animals and it is obvious there is a strong bond. Not convinced or not lovable enough for you? Maybe some surprising facts may at least impress instead:
- The hump is not for storing water, it stores fat, reducing the insulation around the rest of the body, assisting the camel remain cool.
- A camel can drink up to 40 gallons of water in a single session.
- It is possible to be kicked by any of the camel’s legs as it can kick in all four directions.
- A camel can lose up to 25% of their body fluids without suffering from dehydration. Other mammals will suffer after just 15%.
- Their nostrils are shaped to allow retention of water vapour, which is then returned to the body as fluid. They can also close them against wind and sand.
- The thick coat reflects sunlight and insulates it from the desert heat.
- Camel urine is thick like syrup.
While you may still not be convinced enough to be totally enamoured by these beasts, I hope you have found a little more respect for camels at least. If not be careful, next time you meet one, a swift kick or stream of unpleasant green phlegm may be their justified response.