The Story of the Weeping Camel - Now on DVD!
MainLand of Steppe and SkyLiving TraditionsThe CamelsInteractive Time LinePhoto Galleries
Hardy camels, domesticated some 3,500 years ago, are adept at survival in challenging conditions.
Hardy camels, domesticated some 3,500 years ago, are adept at survival in challenging conditions.


A mother camel watches over her offspring—a rare white colt.
A mother camel watches over her offspring—a rare white colt.


Camels, which can haul 375 to 600 pounds (170 to 270 kilograms), remain a primary form of rural transportation.
Camels, which can haul 375 to 600 pounds (170 to 270 kilograms), remain a primary form of rural transportation.


Camel humps don't hold water but store up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms) of fat.
Camel humps don't hold water but store up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms) of fat—a reserve for times of scarce food.
The Camels

Camel Culture: Mongolia's Trusted Ally
Camel Facts: Hitting the Ground Running


Camel Culture: Mongolia's Trusted Ally

When the vast emptiness of the Gobi blocked Genghis Khan's path to China in the 12th century, the great warlord turned to a trusted ally—the Bactrian camel. Genghis has long since passed into legend, but this distinctive, two-humped beast remains an integral part of Mongolian life.

The Bactrians' one-humped relatives, known as Arabian camels or dromedaries, are equally valuable in the searing desert regions of North Africa and Asia.

Camels were domesticated some 3,500 years ago. Today only a very few wild camels survive—most of them Bactrians living in remote reaches of the Gobi.

In agricultural societies such as Mongolia, domesticated camels provide many of life's basic necessities. Camel hair is woven into clothing and blankets, dried camel droppings fuel fires, Mongolians consume camel milk and meat with relish, and people design shoes and saddles from camel hides.

Some desert people measure wealth by the number of camels a person owns. Such livestock might be considered medium-term investments, as the captive camel's life span is about 50 years.

Return to top


Camel Facts: Hitting the Ground Running

Camels are powerful animals, able to easily carry humans and their wares. They stand about 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall at the hump and weigh 1600 to 1800 pounds (726 to 816 kilograms). Over a four-day period a camel can haul 375 to 600 pounds (170 to 270 kilograms) at rates of 29 miles (47 kilometers) a day and 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) an hour. They have been clocked at over 40 miles (65 kilometers) an hour.

Well adapted to harsh climates, camels are famous for their ability to travel as many as 100 miles (161 kilometers) without water. They retain their body moisture efficiently, but they do not function without water. In fact, a thirsty camel can drink as many as 30 gallons (135 liters) of water in about 13 minutes.

Contrary to many an old tale, camels don't store all that water in their humps. The humps actually conserve up to 80 pounds (36 kilograms) of fat—allowing their hosts to survive when food is scarce. The humps shrink as fat is consumed for energy.

When food is available, camels don't discriminate. Their diet generally consists of whatever plants are growing nearby but might be supplemented by an unguarded pair of sandals. Like cows, camels regurgitate and rechew partially digested cud.

The demanding conditions in which camels live require them to hit the ground running—in a nearly literal sense. Newborns walk within a few hours of birth.

At about one year of age a captive camel begins to learn its owner's commands—the beginning of a relationship the likes of which have flowered for centuries in some of the harshest conditions on Earth.

Return to top

Photo Gallery: The Camels

Photo Credits
All images courtesy National Geographic Television & Film.