Desert camels: one hump or two?

Posted by Kathy

Desert camels: one hump or two?

On my first visit to Erg Chigaga, I remember asking our driver, Fattah, how long it would take to get to the camp in our 4x4 from M’Hamid El Ghizlane, anticipating the hot and bumpy journey ahead of me. ‘About 1.5 hours’ was his reply, ‘by camel, 12 hours’. Even with a little room left for exaggeration, I could only imagine how that would feel, sitting on a camel in the blazing sun for hours on end as it lolloped along! Then it occurred to me, never mind my discomfort, how does the camel itself cope with the burden of carrying people on its back in such harsh conditions? There began my admiration for this huge beast, the so-called ‘ship of the desert.’

15 Interesting facts about camels in Morocco.

  1. Dromedary (one-humped) camels were introduced to the Sahara in 200AD.They were used as carriers of goods across Trans-Saharan trade routes, carrying salt, cotton, tea and gold amongst other products. Up to 1,000 camels would form a ‘caravan’, following each other in line for many miles across the desert.

  2. The English word ‘camel’ is thought to derive from the Arabic word ‘jamāl’ which means ‘handsome’ or ‘beauty’, a very apt name for this striking animal.

  3. The facial features of camels are physically perfectly suited to the desert environment. Although they have relatively small heads, camels have large, prominent eyes that enable them to see for long distances and in several directions. These are protected from the hot African sun by a protruding ridge of bone, off which sprout bushy eyebrows which offer further protection.

  4. They have two sets of long eyelashes which close over their eyes to keep blowing sand out and, as well as two ordinary eyelids, they have a third thin ‘eyelid’ that moves from side to side and functions by sweeping any sand aside – working much in the same way as windscreen wipers on a car.

  5. Camels have nostrils lined with hairs that also stop any sand from entering the nose; in fact, they can close their nostrils at will. Hence, camels can continue to walk through a sandstorm whilst humans endeavour to cover their faces as best they can using anything available to hand.

  6. But what about eating all those prickly plants in the desert? Well, the camel’s lips are very thick and rubbery, so they don’t feel pain. In fact, most of the water they take in comes from grazing on the thorny bushes they find growing wild around them in the desert landscape.

  7. Not only are their facial features adapted to suit the harsh desert environment, but the camel’s legs are also aligned so as to move easily and swiftly through sand and they have wide, soft feet which not only enable them to walk long distances, but also prevent them from sinking into the sand, thus saving energy. The pads on their feet are very tough, helping to prevent injury from hard stones and making it relatively easy to walk on very hot sand.

  8. Camels have a thick coat of hair to protect them from the blazing sun during the day and to keep them warm at night in very cold temperatures.

  9. Female camels are known as cows, males as bulls and their young as calves.

  10. It was previously thought that the hump of a camel contains water, but this is not true – the hump actually holds up to 36kg of fat, providing much-needed energy resources when food is scarce. By using this fat as energy, it converts to water, gram for gram, in the process.

  11. Camels can go without water for about 5 days in extreme heat or several months in cooler weather. When they do drink water, they have the ability to drink over 100 litres within 10 minutes. That’s quite a large amount! And another thing – you’ll never guess where this water is stored…unusually, camels have oval-shaped red blood cells which swell up to 2.4 times as they absorb the water the camel is drinking! This serves them well when water is hard to find in hostile desert landscapes.

  12. The camel can apparently reach speeds of up to 40 miles an hour. However, the average speed in the desert may be 3-4 mph.

  13. The life expectancy of a camel is up to 50 years! Hence they make a very good investment for people who live and work in the desert regions of Morocco.

  14. Sometimes people drink camel urine for medicinal purposes! Some Muslims follow the Hadith (holy book) that exalts them to do this so as to be made well.

  15. We’ve all heard that camels spit when agitated – but did you know that when they do so, the spit is actually mixed with the contents of their stomachs, hence it is more like vomit? By doing this, the spit becomes projectile, warning off any predators, especially wolves. Warning: Be sure not to get in the way when a camel’s cheeks start bulging!

So there you have it, this wonderful beast that we admire as it carries us up and over sand dunes on our holidays is truly remarkable in its ability to adapt to harsh climates and to human need. We should never underestimate it.

Great camel headshot

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