Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

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.

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

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...

Oceans

Marco Magrini looks at the carbon capturing power of the ocean’s…

Oceans

Marine Protected Areas are designed to benefit the marine ecosystem…

Climate

The link between China’s economic growth and increased pollution has…

Climate

An analysis of nine year’s worth of lightning data, covering…

Climate

When getting on ‘board’ with sustainability is the entire goal

Oceans

Many scientists believe that jellyfish numbers are increasing, pointing to…

Geophoto

Prepare to be inspired, startled and filled with awe in…

Climate

Excessive use of nitrogen-based fertilisers is contributing to numerous environmental…

Energy

A group of scientists from Edinburgh University has come up…

Geophoto

​This year’s winning environmental photographs show the impacts of the…

Wildlife

A WWF report has revealed that global forest vertebrate populations…

Climate

Yesterday saw one of the biggest public protest movements in…

Climate

On the eve of millions of world citizens going on…

Wildlife

Around 75 million birds are kept as pets in Indonesia,…

Wildlife

Migratory animals are actively adjusting their traditions to cope with…

Climate

How many trees can you plant in a day?

Polar

New analysis of NASA data has led to the discovery…

Climate

Naomi Klein is back and calling for a new world…

Geophoto

The move away from film has meant more pictures being…

Oceans

As the ocean looks set to get busier due to…