The Dromedary Camel
The dromedary camel is able to lose up to 40% of its bodyweight in water without risking permanent damage. It uses its familiar hump to store body fats which can be converted into energy with minimun water loss.
The dromedary thrives in conditions that would kill other mammals. Its hump stores fat reserves and the camel extracts nutrients from the toughest desert vegetation. The dromedary’s hump serves as a food supply, while its fur insulates it against the cold desert night and scorching daytime heat.
Native to North Africa and the Arabian Peninsulas, the camel was domesticated thousands of years ago. In all parts, the camel is master of its harsh environment. Its broad feet cope with loose sands and it eats rough desert plants. Most importantly, it can conserve energy and survive long periods without drinking, fully earning its nickname, ship of the desert.
The camel alternately feeds and rests most of the day. To conserve energy and water; the camel avoids trotting and galloping where possible. It moves slowly, with fore and hindlegs on one side moving together, giving it a curious, rolling gait. In the wild, an adult male controls a group of females and their offspring. Members are not usually hostile to each other except during breeding phases. In periods of drought they will gather together to form large herds. These herds, which can number several hundred members, migrate far and wide in search of water.
The dromedary feeds mainly on grass, but sparse conditions of its desert environment force it to eat any vegetation it finds. It eats the salty plants that other animals can not digest and even eats carrion. When food is abundant, the camel feeds avidly, converting food to body fat, which is stored in the hump, allowing the camel to forgo feeding for long periods. It can also survive months without water, although then, the hump, depleted of fat reserves, is visibly shrunken.
Unusual among mammals, the male dromedary’s reproductive cycle dictates breeding. He has a distinct reproductive phase that can last for months, during this time he herds females to mate with them. He repels other males, but will leave the group voluntarily when he is not “in phase”, yielding leadership to another male.
The dromedary has been domesticated for thousands of years, as a beast of burden, for riding and providing milk, meat, wool, hides, and bone. To communities in southwest Asia and North Africa it remains the most important domestic animal and the species status remains stable.