At first glance, the Bactrian Camel (Camelus bactrianus) seems to be a relic of an older age. Its awe-inspiring mass, zen-like glance, and calm demeanor give rise to feelings that you do not get with other domestic herbivores. Sure, some large horses may make you question your confidence when handling massive animals. But the feeling of being next to a 2,000 pound camel that is 7 feet tall at his humps and head makes you immediately understand what evolution has dealt you in relation to this beast. While a halter seems to give you so much control over a horse, cow, or goat, that control seems to dissipate quickly when you realize how strong a Bactrian Camel really is. And those guttural rumbles that camels make; sounds that build high like a mountain, reaching all the way up to the humps, making you hope (for your sake) that the sounds are those of a contented joy.
I was lucky enough to be able to handle a male Bactrian Camel (named Bradley) all day at Cornell University’s annual Open House. I spent the day talking with the public (including thousands of people!) about the Bactrian Camels’ life history, current conservation status, and evolutionary biology.
To me, it is especially important to realize that while there are many domestic Bactrian and Dromedary Camels (Camelus dromedarius) throughout the world, there are not many wild ones. In fact, there are only about 600 wild Bactrian Camels left in the world, while there are no wild Dromedary Camels left in the entire world. Not only is the Bactrian Camel an impressive animal, it is a reminder of what can happen to wild animals due to human expansion. The conservation status of the Bactrian Camel, from the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) is currently Critically Endangered, meaning that they are at a high risk of becoming extinct in the wild.