A Travellerspoint blog

October 2012

Camel Facts

If it weren't for the camels, Taklamakan Desert would literally be "taklamakan", "one comes in but never comes out".

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Korla, August 17th 2012

"Camels!" I squeaked.

"Oh, yes! You are lucky!" Peng Li said. Oh yes, I'm lucky. My shirt and pants are completely dry by now.

"Would they run away if come close to them?" I asked Peng Li.

She answered a different thing. I repeated my question. She answered the same. I don't remember what exactly she said. Whatsoever, it didn't answer my question.

"I want to take a picture of the camels. If I go and walk over there, will they run away?"

"Yes, they are there."


Anyway, I sure have to admit I was lucky. Not just did I have a chance to see a herd of camels in real, they came walking closer and closer to me! How I was thrilled! Do Chinese camels understand English?

Groups after groups walked toward my direction, until the desert was left empty. I didn't see a shepherd, camel-man, or such.

Oh my! I thought they were coming to greet me nǐ hǎo. No, no, there were heading to Bosten Lake for a drink.

I think my legs were shaking a bit. I never imagined I could be this close to a large herd of camels that weren't brought by a camel-man. Although this wasn't my first encounter with a camel, the previous ones were merely camels for tourists. My first camel encounter was a camel of a circus owner. How I wanted to touch these camels. I wanted to pet them and tell them how I adore them. But I wasn't sure whether they were wild camels or bred camels. I was afraid I might otherwise scare them and spoil everything. Ah, just be grateful with what I have now. Even this, is something money cannot buy.

Yes, I did say, I adore camels. My favorite animal of all is panda. But the one I most adore is camel. The special features that God has provided for camels which enables camels to be so strong and tough through both severe circumstances: desert and snow, are so amazing.

There are two species of camels, the Dromedary and the Bactrian. Dromedary camels have one hump on their backs and Bactrian camels have two. The ones I'm seeing now are the Bactrians. "The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of central Asia. It is presently restricted in the wild to remote regions of the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts of Mongolia and Xinjiang," says Wikipedia.

Bactrian camels aren't merely desert animals highly adaptable to heat. They are as tough towards extreme cold: (Source: Wikipedia.)
"Bactrian camels belong to a fairly small group of animals that regularly eat snow to provide their water needs. Any animals living above the snowline are obliged to do this as snow and ice are the only forms of water during winter, and by doing so their range is greatly enlarged. The latent heat of snow and ice is enormous compared with the heat capacity of water, demanding a large sacrifice in heat energy and forcing animals to eat only small amounts at a time."

"These camels are migratory, and their habitat ranges from rocky mountain massifs to flat arid desert, stony plains and sand dunes. Conditions are extremely harsh – vegetation is sparse, water sources are limited and temperatures are extreme, ranging from as low as -40 °C in winter to 40 °C in summer. The camels’ distribution is linked to the availability of water, with large groups congregating near rivers after rain or at the foot of the mountains, where water can be obtained from springs in the summer months, and in the form of snow during the winter."

See? Ranging from -40 °C to 40 °C endurance! Anything tougher than that? How can I not adore camel just like I adore the Silk Road? Toughness, perseverance.

This source is talking about Dromadary camel. But I think it's no much different with the Bactrian camel.
"The dromedary camel does not store water any more than does any other species, yet it does not need to drink water for days. It can handle extreme dehydration as a result of a number of different physiological adaptations. Camels have been known to lose safely body water equivalent to 40% of its body weight, a loss that would be lethal in any other animal. How do they do this?

· Plasma volume is maintained at the expense of tissue fluid, so that circulation is not impaired.

· The small oval erythrocyte of the camel can continue to circulate in situations of increased blood viscosity.

· Camels can take in a very large amount of water at one session to make up for previous fluid loss. In other animals, this would result in severe osmotic problems. Camels can do this because water is absorbed very slowly from their stomach and intestines, allowing time for equilibration. Furthermore, their erythrocytes can swell to 240% of normal size without bursting. (Other species can only go to 150%.)

· Their kidneys are capable of concentrating their urine markedly to reduce water loss. The urine can become as thick as syrup and have twice the salt content of sea water.

· They can extract water from their fecal pellets so much that these can be used immediately for fuel upon voiding."

Once a Bactrian camel has a chance to drink, it can drink 120 liters at a time, according to this source. Wikipedia says, 57 liters, though.

Camel eyes aren't just a pair of eyes. God had created them with triple eyelids. Do you see that white line in the middle? I found a link explaining about the desert defenses a camel has. About the eyes, it is said:
"The third eyelid is like a windshield wiper on a car, wiping the sand away. It is thin and translucent, allowing camels to see in sandstorms. Broad ridges of bone above each eye act as built-in sun-visors, shielding the eyes."
The built-in-sun-visor half closed can also be seen in this camel's left eye.

And about the ears, the same source wrote:
"Small ears prevent sand from getting in them."

Do you realize something? The link above about camel information said, "Camels can shut their nostrils to keep sand out. Also, nostrils conserve water vapor in exhalation and return it to the body."

I didn't make a photo close up of the camel's feet. But you should know how extraordinary camel's feet are. The huge feet of camels help them to walk on sand without sinking into it. A camel's foot can be as big as a large plate. The two camel toes are not hooves. I strongly recommend you to look up in this website which mentions nothing but camels. Thrill yourself by the 'ship of the desert'. A Bactrian camel can outrace a horse over long distances, you know!

I had always thought it was forever as hard as other animal's horns. Why do they look like an elephant's flapping ear like this?
Here's the answer:
"Most kinds of animals store fat in their bodies, but only camels keep most of their fat in a hump. If food is hard to find, the fat in the hump provides energy for the animal. If a camel is starving, its hump shrinks. The hump may even slip off the animal's back and hang down on its side. After the camel has had a few weeks' rest and food, its hump becomes firm and plump again. The hump is not a storage place for water, as many people believe."
Oh, I didn't know that a camel's hump could slip off.

So this camel must be very hungry. Poor, guy. No wonder it's rather left behind. May the water of Bosten Lake restore it's energy, and the green plants back there meet its need. If based on this reference about Bactrian camels, this area should be sufficient for the camels to recharge.
"They are able to eat plants that are dry, prickly, salty and/or bitter and can ingest virtually any kind of vegetation. When other nutrient sources are not available, these camels may feed on carcasses, gnawing on bones, skin, or various different kinds of flesh. In more extreme conditions, they may eat any material they find, which has included rope, sandals, and even tents. Their ability to feed on a wide range of foods allows them to live in areas with sparse vegetation. With tough mouths that can withstand sharp objects such as thorns, the digestion process begins. The first time food is swallowed it is not fully chewed. The partly masticated food (called cud) goes into the stomach and later is brought back up for further chewing."

As I was preparing to write this post, I was rather uncertain of whether these camels are the Bactrian camels or not, because their furs looks so thin. On some parts of the body, it even looked bold. Were they actually sick? Thanks to the site about camel I mentioned above, it made me feel better: "All camels lose their fur in spring and grow a new coat. A camel looks sleek and slender for several weeks after losing its coat, but a thick coat of new fur grows by autumn." Since I came in August, it wasn't a surprise the camels were nearly bold. I would love to see their looks in winter.

After the camels drank from Bosten lake, the young ones began to feed on their Mom's milk. Just like how they moved towards the lake without no shepherd leading, so did the camel babies. Each of them moved to their Mom's belly almost all at the same time.

As I was absorbed watching the camels having a feast, I heard a cry from far behind. I turned my head.
I was terribly shocked! A little crippled camel had been left behind. This had been 11 minutes (based on my photos' exif data) after the herd started moving towards the lake. It was such a sad scene. How I wish I could carry the camel to the lake. It's cry while limping towards the lake broke my heart.

Finally, it reached the lake while its fellow was almost done and about to return to the desert. Unlike the other camels, the first thing this crippled camel did was sucking on its mother's milk. At first I thought, "Weird mother. Why didn't she walk with her cub to the lake?" But on a second thought, the mother must needed to feed herself to be able to produce plenty of milk for her cub. If she had walked with her cub to the lake, they would both arrive at the lake starving and she would be instead of no use to her cub.

I wonder for how many more years this crippled camel can survive.

If man hadn't sinned, the Silk Road definitely would never exist. The hardship along the Silk Road from century to century, from China to Europe, was merely a testimony of:
“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
It will produce thorns and thistles for you,
and you will eat the plants of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you will eat your food
until you return to the ground,
since from it you were taken;
for dust you are
and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19 (NIV)

However, through the Silk Road, God at the same time has shown how much He cares. Camel, is just one example. With all the special features mentioned above, a camel is equipped to carry as much as 450 kilograms, travel about 40 kilometers a day, at a speed of 5 kilometers an hour. If it weren't for the camels, I believe, Taklamakan would literally be "taklamakan". No one would ever come out, and share us the story, of Silk Road.

He does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Psalm 103:10-12 (NIV)

How far is the East from West?

Posted by automidori 20:00 Archived in China Tagged china camel xinjiang korla Comments (0)

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