The wild camel – a great survivor

  • Written by  John Hare
  • Published in Wildlife
Wild camel with a calf under 24-hours-old in the Desert of Lop, Xinjiang, China Wild camel with a calf under 24-hours-old in the Desert of Lop, Xinjiang, China John Hare
24 Aug
2016
Listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ by the IUCN, the double-humped camel has nonetheless proved a remarkable breed. John Hare of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation outlines makes a case for the future of the species

Very few people are aware that the critically endangered wild double-humped camel (Camelus ferus) is, according to ZSL, the eighth most endangered large mammal in the world. As few as 450 roam the Mongolian Gobi, in a 55,000 square kilometre reserve called the Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area ‘A’. Another 600 are found across the Chinese border, in the desert surrounding the dried-up lake of Lop Nur where, in 2003, the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF), a UK registered charity, established an even larger reserve.

In 2008, genetic testing carried out by the Veterinary University in Vienna on samples sent by WCPF from both China and Mongolia proved the wild camel is an entirely new and separate species that evolved over 700,000 years ago – and not, as was previously thought, a domesticated Bactrian camel turned feral.

In China, wild camels have developed the incredible ability to drink water with a higher salt content than seawater and they survived 43 atmospheric nuclear tests when their habitat was the former Lop Nur nuclear test area. Today, their enemy is man, who enters their protected areas, often illegally, to explore for gold, copper or iron ore and shoots the wild camel for food. A growing wolf population in both countries also takes its toll.

In 1997, alarmed by these growing threats, I co-founded the WCPF, which obtained World Bank funding and established the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve in China – at 155,000 square kilometres one of the largest in the world.

In 2004, the WCPF also established a Wild Camel Breeding Centre, in southwestern Mongolia, on the fringe of the Gobi ‘A’ site. Peter Hall, an Australian philanthropist, along with the Mongolian Ministry for Nature both provided essential support. We started with 12 wild camels and today there are 28.

Wild camel calves at the Breeding Centre at Zakhyn Us in MongoliaWild camel calves at the Breeding Centre at Zakhyn Us in Mongolia (Image: John Hare)

November to February, is when the male camels start their three-month-long ‘rut’ and the females come into season. As temperatures drop into the minus 30s, the male camels’ adrenalin levels rise.

If a group of young bull camels challenge the alpha male in the confines of a wild camel breeding centre, the situation can be explosive. Fences and wooden buildings can be smashed and herdsmen put in fear of their lives.

The only solution is to remove the three-to-six-year-old males from the fray. Consequently, in October 2013 we released two young males into the desert, and six more in October 2015. They were fitted with satellite collars by the Academy of Sciences in China and both the releases have been extremely successful.

Our goals are to safeguard the wild camel’s unique genetic makeup for future generations and to introduce fresh blood into the wild population by releasing camels we breed into their natural habitat.

But it’s not only the camel’s genetic make-up that is unique. Its ability to survive both nuclear testing and salt water make it a species that must not be lost to the world on account of man’s greed.

Wild bull camel against the Tibet escarpmentWild bull camel against the Tibet escarpment (Image: John Hare)

John Hare is the co-founder of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (a UK registered charity – number 1068706), and is committed to saving from extinction in the Gobi deserts of China and Mongolia the critically endangered wild camel. See www.wildcamels.com and www.johnhare.org.uk for more details.

For more on the topic of extinction, pick up Geographical’s special themed September 2016 issue, on sale now.

Share this story...

Submit to FacebookSubmit to Google PlusSubmit to Twitter

Related items

Geographical Week

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox every Friday.

Subscribe Today

Target Ovarian Cancer

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth UniversityUniversity of GreenwichThe University of Winchester

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • The Nuclear Power Struggle
    The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn on government policy from just two years ago. Yet this seems to be going against the grain globa...
    The Air That We Breathe
    Cities the world over are struggling to improve air quality as scandals surrounding diesel car emissions come to light and the huge health costs of po...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...
    National Clean Air Day
    For National Clean Air Day, Geographical brings together stories about air pollution and the kind of solutions needed to tackle it ...
    REDD+ or Dead?
    The UN-backed REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) scheme, under which developing nations would be paid not to cut dow...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - follow Geographical

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in NATURE...

Polar

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Oceans

The effect of plastics on the world’s oceans is posing…

Geophoto

Camera technology may have come a long way since the…

Energy

The UK appears to be embracing nuclear, a huge U-turn…

Wildlife

Despite their high profiles, most of the world’s national animal…

Oceans

Asian countries are pledging to reduce the amount of land-based…

Geophoto

There’s a world of visual wonder beneath the waves but…

Energy

A short, summer eclipse in America has solar power generators…

Climate

A dramatic increase in dust storms across the western United…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Climate

A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of…

Wildlife

It’s not just the bees that are disappearing. Insects across…

Oceans

Far beneath the waves, a race is unfolding to claim…

Climate

Compared to other types of carbon sink, seagrass in Kenya…

Geophoto

Who in their right mind wants to shoot with film…

Climate

Geographical’s regular look at the world of climate change. This…

Geophoto

Calling photographers passionate about capturing and sharing great images of…

Climate

Five experts weigh-in on the future of the Paris Agreement…

Oceans

Analysis into a killer whale found dead off the shores…

Geophoto

For the past ten years, the Chartered Institution of Water…