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

Leave a comment

ONLY registered members can leave comments and each comment is held pending authorisation before publishing. Please login or register to voice your opinion.

LATEST HEADLINES

Subscribe Today

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 true cost of meat
    As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat industry has a lot more to concern itself with than merely dietary issues ...
    Long live the King
    It is barely half a century since the Born Free story caused the world to re-evaluate humanity’s relationship with lions. A few brief decades later,...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital has a green future, ...
    The Money Trail
    Remittance payments are a fundamental, yet often overlooked, part of the global economy. But the impact on nations receiving the money isn’t just a ...
    Dealing with drugs
    While Ebola makes the headlines, a raft of unreported and under-researched diseases are responsible for far more deaths across Africa every year. But ...

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...

Nature

What was once one of Botswana’s most iconic pieces of…

Tectonics

How does the proposed allocation of ‘Zealandia’ as an independent…

Wildlife

Is extinction forever? While most would assume that yes, extinction…

Geophoto

Wide-angle photography is perhaps the best way to recreate the…

Wildlife

New book aims to follow in the success of last…

Wildlife

With Queensland koala numbers in free-fall, a novel idea suggests…

Climate

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

Tectonics

Fears that volcano eruptions in Iceland are set to regularly…

Oceans

Now we can all experience diving to the deepest point…

Wildlife

The new President of the United States has a namesake…

Geophoto

17,000 photographs from over 50 countries have been whittled down…

Wildlife

Red squirrels are found to be afflicted with a stubborn…

Polar

The toll, as a response to melting sea ice, would…

Climate

Could rail be the sustainable long-distance freight transport the world…

Energy

Abandoned oil and gas wells in the US are leaking significant…

Polar

The ice in Greenland is rapidly melting, bringing about massive…

Geophoto

Camera drones are changing the photography landscape, but despite the…

Climate

As one of the world’s biggest methane emitters, the meat…

Wildlife

As black rhinos return to an area they were once…

Climate

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