The Underappreciated Camelid

Congratulations to the St. Louis Zoo. The zoo recently celebrated the birth of a Bactrian camel calf.

I remember as a young keeper being tasked with exercising a Bactrian camel calf in the early mornings of a typically hot Midwestern summer. Just like many neonates of large ungulates, this animal was pretty big despite his age. You may not realize this until you have one on a lead and he’s running you to exhaustion.

If you have ridden or worked with dromedary camels and/or have experience working with Bactrians camels you can well appreciate the differences between these two true camel species, and their special adaptations for the environments they inhabit. Notice the humps of course.  The smaller New World camelids are also sometimes referred to as camels (e.g., guanacos, alapacas, etc). Hybrids of  Old World (true camels) and New World camelids also exist (e.g., Dromedary X Llama = Cama).

With the exception of  approximately 700,000 feral dromedary camels in Australia (introduced by the Afghans in the 19th century), the greater majority of these animals living today are domesticated. The majority of Bactrians are also domesticated.  However,  the declining wild population of Bactrian camels may number as few as 800 or less. This remnant population from the Gobi desert (Mongolia/China) has drawn much attention from conservationists making the Bactrian camel a species of special concern.  Bactrian camels were listed as one of the top-10 “focal species” in 2007 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project.

Working with Bactrian camels in captivity can be quite dangerous and hence, precautions may be taken to work these animals in a “protected contact” environment such that keepers and handlers train and care for the animals, but do not enter the enclosure with them.  Bactrians may not look that big until you stand next to one.

I recommend a colleague’s site for ungulate resources:………………………..

Dr. Jordan Schaul, Zoo Keeper Emeritus

One thought on “The Underappreciated Camelid

  1. Thanks for posting this! I’ll have to check out the new addition when I’m at the St. Louis Zoo next month for a presentation (on Wildlife CSI on April 13th).

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