Camels - More than a Cigarette Icon
I doubt anyone has not seen a camel. It might have been at a circus, during exotic traveling, or just in pictures. But how much do you really know about them? Besides the fact that they can sell cigarettes.
Everyone knows that the camel is a desert animal. They are pretty much from Asia and Africa. They have been introduced in other areas of the world with some success (Australia) and some failures (North America). Domesticated over 3,000 years ago, you’ll find very few in the wild today. They have relatives across the world that we know as llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicunas.
There are basically two kinds of camels. The ones with only 1 hump, the Arabian or dromedary, and the one with 2 humps, the Bactrain. The wild ones will have smaller humps. There have also been attempts at a hybrid camel that has resulted in an extra long hump and the camel itself is bigger and stronger than the Arabian or Bactrain.
The camel can grow to six and half feet high and weigh as much as 1500 pounds. That is one big animal! Because of this they can carry as much as 1000 pounds for a 20 mile walk in one day. But despite their immense size, they are perfect for the desert. One of the most amazing things they can do is not sink in the sand and they travel throughout the large deserts. Their feet have two large toes with a thick pad between them. This enables the camel to not sink into the sand and keep up the fast speed (as fast a horse) across the loose sand. They also have glands within their eyes that help keep them moist in the intense heat. Long lashes also help in shading from the sun and protection for the blowing sand. The ears are also pretty hairy to help protect them from sand.
The camels are also known for their amazing hump on their backs. It was said for years that this hump stored water which would explain how the camel could go so long without drinking. That was a myth that still is popular today. The hump actually contains fat that the camel can use when food sources are unavailable which can happen on long treks across the desert. A healthy hump can weigh as much as 77 pounds. As the fat supplies are used, the hump grows smaller. It has even been known to slip to the side of camel if they do not get the necessary nutrition in time.
Camels breeding usually occurs as the daylight hours increase. They usually don’t begin breeding until about 2 or 3 years of age through their first calf might not appear until they are about age 5. They give birth about every 2 or 3 years giving the cow an average of 8 calves over her lifetime. Once conception has occurred, the camel will carry their unborn for an average of 14 months (thank goodness, I’m not a camel). When the calf is about 1 years old, they are taught basic commands. By the age of 5 they can carry a full load.
Being able to work with humans is very important for a camel. Many people depend on camels for their survival. They are most known for being a means of transportation and carry heavy loads for humans. But they are also used in the farm lands much as a horse or ox would be. They pull plows, carry materials for merchants, and help transport water which sometimes has to be carried many miles. The meat of younger camels are eaten in some areas though the meat tends to be tough. The milk is used in cooking and to make cheeses. The fur is used in clothing and for housing. The leather is used to make shoes and bags. The fat from a hump is used as butter in some areas. Nothing from a camel goes to waste. That includes their droppings which are used as fuel once it is dried.
The diet of a camel is usually fresh vegetation. Though they are known to eat any vegetation when hungry. A stick with briars on it will not hurt their mouth since it is extremely tough. When eating they do not chew like we were taught as children. They barely chew it and swallow it to go to one of the 3 chambers of their stomachs. One chamber holds the poorly chewed food until it is regurgitated and chewed as a cud. Then it is swallowed again and returned to the other sections for final digestion.
As stated before, camels are known for going long periods with no water. If the vegetation they are getting is moist enough, they will drink less. In the winter they are known to also drink less. But they have been known to drink up to 53 gallons in a day. Wow!
Maybe their diet causes them to be notoriously cranky. We all know how they spit. Well, that is something of another myth. They are not exactly spitting. They are vomiting (much better, eh?). This is a defense that they have to surprise an attacker. I know it would surprise me. They also kick extremely hard.
These tough desert creatures are extremely important in many areas. Since they can live up to 50 years, one camel can service a family for a long time.
One of the most well known camels, is the one used by RJ Reynolds in selling their cigarettes. I was very curious as to why they chose such an animal to sell smokes. It is not like you see camels lighting up much. It seems that in the early 1900’s the biggest rage was the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Their big attraction at the time was an exotic animal called a camel that was named Old Joe. So RJ Reynolds decided to capitalize on the popularity of the circus and its current star. The subject of the photo shoot was hard to work with, but it created an icon that is still recognized today.
I’m not sure that I want a camel as a pet or my means of transportation, but the respect I have for the desert carrier has certainly grown.