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The Bactrian camel is about 10 feet long, stands 7 feet at the humps, and weighs up to 1,500 pounds. The thick, shaggy, dark brown to beige coat that covers the camel during cold weather is shed in huge chunks when the temperature rises. Longer hair hangs from the neck and gives the appearance of a beard. Bushy eyebrows, a double row of eyelashes, ears lined with hair, and the ability to close nostrils and lips tightly serve as protection from harsh, blowing winds and sand. Their tough, even-toed feet help them to cross the rocky deserts of Asia and travel well through snow or sand.
The most obvious difference between the Bactrian and the Arabian camel is that the former has two prominent humps and the latter only has one. The Bactrian also has a thicker and shaggier coat than the Arabian.
Distribution and Habitat
Although about two million domesticated Bactrian camels are raised across most of Asia north of the Himalaya Mountains, it is estimated that there are fewer than 1,000 left in the wild. Those wild Bactrians are restricted to scattered populations in the dry grasslands and deserts of northern China and southern Mongolia, a region where temperatures can climb to over 100º F in the summer and drop to -20º F in the winter.
Habits and Behaviors
Bactrian camels are generally found alone or in small groups of up to 30 animals led by a single breeding male, although males that are unable to find mates often gather in single-sex bachelor herds.
Most active during the day, camels spend most of their time moving among grazing areas, and herds frequently have to travel vast distances in search of food and water sources.
Dominant males defend groups of females from other males during the breeding season, which occurs in the fall. Gestation lasts thirteen months, with most young being born from March through April. One or occasionally two calves are produced, and females can give birth to a new calf every other year. The baby calf is precocial, having the ability to stand at birth and walk only a few hours after. The young calf is weaned at one to two years and stays with its mother for three to five years, until it reaches sexual maturity.
It is believed that Bactrian camels can live up to 50 years in the wild.
Camels are able to eat plants that are dry, prickly, salty, and/or bitter, but will eat almost any kind of vegetation. When other nutrient sources are not available, these camels may feed on bones, other animals' skin, or different kinds of flesh. In more extreme conditions, they may eat rope, sandals, and even tents. Their ability to feed on a wide range of foods allows them to live in areas with sparse vegetation.
Camels can go for several days without water. When water is available, they drink only to replace what is missing from their body, and can take in up to 30 gallons in fifteen minutes. The Bactrian also has the ability to quench its thirst with salty or brackish water, something no other mammal can do. Bactrian camels will also eat snow in order to obtain water.
This page was last updated on January 23, 2017.