An amazing example of animals surviving in desert environments are the Bactrian camels. Like their cousins the Dromedary (Arabian) camels,the Bactrian camels store water and fat in humps on their back. These camels have two humps rather than the single hump of the Dromedary. As they deplete these fat stores, the hump will become floppy. However it is not their iconic humps that make these critically endangered camels so special, but their extreme environment.

Somehow these camels have adapted to an environment even more extreme than the Sahara desert in which their cousins are found. Bactrians live mainly in the Gobi and Gashun Gobi deserts of Mongolia and northwestern China. Temperatures here reach over 100°F in the summer then fall to –20°F in winter.

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel

Water in this extreme environment is usually only found in the form of snow. The problem with this is that eating large quantities of snow can actually be harmful to these animals. As such, they have developed the habit of limiting themselves to just a few mouthfuls of snow at a time. When they do find other sources of water they can guzzle up to 30 gallons in only 13 minutes.

These camels were historically hunted for their hides and meat. While they are not really hunted anymore, even to this day they are still persecuted as they are seen as competition for livestock. With only 1,000 individuals left these amazing creatures find themselves in a dire position.

Bactrian in snow

Bactrian in snow

There is hope though. Areas where these camels still occur are protected by the Great Gobi Reserve in Mongolia and by the Lop Nur Wild Camel Reserve in China. Captive breeding efforts have also been established with the hopes of re-wilding captive raised camels to boost wild populations. Recent studies have found that the milk of Dromedary camels can be a substitute for insulin and it is hoped that further studies will find the same to be true with Bactrians. If this is proved, this valuable use for live Bactrians could spur further conservation efforts and funding.

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