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The wild Bactrian camel (Camelus ferus) is a critically endangered species of camel living in parts of northern China and southern Mongolia. It is closely related to the Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus). Both are large, double-humped even-toed ungulates native to the steppes of central Asia.[1] Until recently, wild Bactrian camels were thought to have descended from domesticated Bactrian camels that became feral after being released into the wild. However, recent genetic studies have established it as a separate species, with a divergence date of about 1.1 million years ago.[2][3][4][5][6][7][8]

Wild Bactrian camel
Wild Bactrian camel on road east of Yarkand.jpg
Wild Bactrian camel
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Camelidae
Genus: Camelus
Species: C. ferus
Binomial name
Camelus ferus
Przewalski, 1878
Camelus ferus distribution.svg
Current range

Only about 1,000 camels survive. Most live on the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve in China, and a smaller population lives in the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.[9]



Wild Bactrian camels have long, narrow slit-like nostrils, a double row of long thick eyelashes, and ears with hairs to provide protection against desert sandstorms. They have tough undivided soles with two large toes that spread wide apart, and a horny layer which enables them to walk on rough and hot stony or sandy terrain. Their thick and shaggy body hair changes colour to[clarification needed] light brown or beige during winter.[1][10]

Like its close relative, the domesticated Bactrian camel, it is one of the few mammals able to eat snow to provide itself with liquids in the winter.[11] While the legend that camels store water in their stomachs is a misconception, they cannot survive without water for long periods but do have the capacity to conserve water.[1]

Differences from Bactrian camelsEdit

Wild Bactrian camels (Camelus ferus) appear similar to Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) but the outstanding difference is genetic, with the two species having descended from two distinct ancestors.[12]

There are several differences in size and shape between the two species. The wild Bactrian camel is slightly smaller than the Bactrian camel and has been described as "lithe, and slender-legged, with very narrow feet and a body that looks laterally compressed."[13] The humps of the wild Bactrian camel are smaller, lower and more conical in shape than those of the Bactrian camel. These humps may often be about half the size of those of a domesticated Bactrian camel.[14] The wild Bactrian camel has a flatter skull (havtagai, the Mongolian name for a wild Bactrian camel, means 'flat-head') and a different shape of foot.[15]

The wool of the wild Bactrian camel is always sandy coloured and shorter and sparser than that of domesticated Bactrian camels.[14][16]

The wild Bactrian camel can also survive on water saltier than seawater, something which no other mammal in the world, including the Bactrian camel, can tolerate.[17]


Wild Bactrian camels generally move in groups of up to 30 individuals, although 6 to 20 is more common depending on the amount of food available. They are fully migratory and widely scattered with a population density as low as 5 per 100 km2. They travel with a single adult male in the lead and assemble near water points where larger groups can also be seen. Their lifespan is about 40 years and they breed during winter with an overlap into the rainy season. Females produce offspring starting at age 5, and thereafter in a cycle of 2 years.[10] Typically, Bactrian camels seen alone are postdispersal young individuals which have just reached sexual maturity.

Distribution and habitatEdit

Their habitat is in arid plains and hills where water sources are scarce and very little vegetation exists with shrubs as their main food source.[1] These habitats have widely varying temperatures: the summer temperature ranges from 40–50 °C (104–122 °F)[citation needed] and winter temperature a low of −30 °C (−22 °F).

Wild Bactrian camels travel over long distances, seeking water in places close to mountains where springs are found, and hill slopes covered in snow provide some moisture in winter. The size of a herd may vary up to 100 camels but generally of 2-15 members in a group; this is reported to be due to arid environment and heavy poaching. The wild Bactrian camels are limited to three pockets in Mongolia and China;[1] about 600 in the Gobi desert in northwest China and 800 in the Mongolian desert.[9]

In ancient times, wild Bactrian camels were seen from the great bend of the Yellow River extending west to the Southern Mongolia deserts and further to Northwest China and central Kazakhstan. In the 1800s, due to hunting for its meat and hide, its presence was noted in remote areas of the Gobi and Taklimakan deserts in Mongolia and China. In the 1920s, only remnant populations were recorded in Mongolia and China.[1] The wild Bactrian camel received a reprieve from extinction when China began testing nuclear weapons at Lop Nur in 1964. After China signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1996, human incursions into the area caused a sharp drop in the camel population.[18]


The wild Bactrian camel is critically endangered. The United Kingdom-based Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) estimates that there are only about 1400 of them left in the world.[19] The London Zoological Society recognizes it as the eighth most endangered large mammal in the world,[15] and it is on the critically endangered list. The wild Bactrian camel was identified as one of the top ten "focal species" in 2007 by the Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) project, which prioritises unique and threatened species for conservation.[29]

Observations made during five field expeditions starting in 1993 by John Hare and the WCPF suggest that the surviving populations may be facing an 80% decline within the next 30 years. [20] According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) its status was critical in the 1960s and gradually declined to critically endangered (Criteria: A3de + 4ade) status in 2000–2004 (IUCN 2004).[1]


Wild Bactrian camels face many threats. The main threat is hunting: in the Gobi Reserve Area, 25 to 30 camels are reported to be poached for domestic use[clarification needed] every year, and about 20 in the Lop Nur Reserve. Hunters have been killing the camel by laying land mines in the salt water springs where the camels drink.[18][21] Other threats include scarcity of access to water (oases), attacks by wolves, hybridization with domestic Bactrians leading to a concern of a loss of genetically distinct populations or infertile individuals which could potentially ward off viable bulls from a large number of females during its lifetime, toxic effluent releases from illegal mining, re-designation of wildlife areas as industrial zones, and sharing grazing areas with domestic animals.[22] Due to increasing human populations, wild camels that migrate in search of grazing land may compete for food and water sources with introduced domestic stock and are sometimes shot by farmers.

The only extant predators that regularly target wild Bactrian camels are gray wolves, which have been seen to pursue weaker and weather-battered camels as they try to reach oases.[23] Due to increasingly dry conditions in the species' range, the numbers of cases of wolf predation on wild camels at oases has reportedly increased.[24] Historically, the Caspian tiger was also known to prey on wild Bactrian camels, but this subspecies is almost certainly extinct.[25]


At the Tierwelt Herberstein, Austria

Several actions have been initiated by the Governments of China and Mongolia to conserve this species of mammal such as the ecosystem-based management programme; two programmes instituted in this respect are based in the Great Gobi Reserve A (funded by UNEP & Global Environment Facility of the order of $1,650,000 in 1979[21]) in Mongolia set up in 1982, and the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve (funded by UNEP and Global Environment Facility to the extent of $750,000[21]), on the border of Kum Tagh sand dunes in the Tibetan mountains reserve, established in China in 2000.[10]

The Wild Camel Protection Foundation, the only such charity of its kind, has as its main goal conservation of the wild Bactrian in its natural desert environment to ensure that they do not get listed in the extinct category of IUCN.[9][21] The actions taken by the various organizations, motivated and supported by IUCN and WCPF are: Establishment of more nature reserves (in China and Mongolia) for their conservation, and breeding them in captivity, 15 animals in captivity, (as females can give two litters every two years which may not happen when they are in the wild) to prevent extinction.[22] The captive breeding initiated by WCPF in 2003 is the Zakhyn-Us Sanctuary in Mongolia, where the initial programme of breeding last non-hybridised herds of Bactrian camels has proved a success with the birth of several calves.[10]

The wild Bactrian camel is also being considered for introduction at Pleistocene Park in Northern Siberia as a proxy for extinct Pleistocene camel species.[26][27] If this proves feasible, it would increase their geographic range considerably, adding a safety margin to their survival.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h "Animal Info - Endangered Animals: Camelus bactrianus (Camelus bactrianus ferus)". Animal Information Organization. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  2. ^ Silbermayr, K.; Orozco-terWengel, P.; Charruau, P.; Enkhbileg, D.; Walzer, C.; Vogl, C.; Schwarzenberger, F.; Kaczensky, P.; Burger, P. A. (2010-06-01). "High mitochondrial differentiation levels between wild and domestic Bactrian camels: a basis for rapid detection of maternal hybridization". Animal Genetics. 41 (3): 315–318. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2009.01993.x. ISSN 1365-2052. 
  3. ^ Ji, R.; Cui, P.; Ding, F.; Geng, J.; Gao, H.; Zhang, H.; Yu, J.; Hu, S.; Meng, H. (2009-08-01). "Monophyletic origin of domestic bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) and its evolutionary relationship with the extant wild camel (Camelus bactrianus ferus)". Animal Genetics. 40 (4): 377–382. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2052.2008.01848.x. ISSN 1365-2052. PMC 2721964 . PMID 19292708. 
  4. ^ Burger, Pamela Anna (2016-04-05). "The history of Old World camelids in the light of molecular genetics". Tropical Animal Health and Production. 48 (5): 905–913. doi:10.1007/s11250-016-1032-7. ISSN 0049-4747. PMC 4884201 . PMID 27048619. 
  5. ^ Mohandesan, Elmira; Fitak, Robert R.; Corander, Jukka; Yadamsuren, Adiya; Chuluunbat, Battsetseg; Abdelhadi, Omer; Raziq, Abdul; Nagy, Peter; Stalder, Gabrielle (2017-08-30). "Mitogenome Sequencing in the Genus Camelus Reveals Evidence for Purifying Selection and Long-term Divergence between Wild and Domestic Bactrian Camels". Scientific Reports. 7 (1). doi:10.1038/s41598-017-08995-8. ISSN 2045-2322. 
  6. ^ Burger, P., Silbermayr, K., Charruau, P., Lipp, L., Dulamtseren, E., Yadmasuren, A. and Walzer, C. (in press). Genetic status of wild camels (Camelus ferus) in Mongolia.
  7. ^ See, for example: Hare (2008) and Potts (2004)
  8. ^ Cui, Peng; Ji, Rimutu; Ding, Feng; Qi, Dan; Gao, Hongwei; Meng, He; Yu, Jun; Hu, Songnian; Zhang, Heping (2007-01-01). "A complete mitochondrial genome sequence of the wild two-humped camel (Camelus bactrianus ferus): an evolutionary history of camelidae". BMC Genomics. 8: 241. doi:10.1186/1471-2164-8-241. ISSN 1471-2164. PMC 1939714 . PMID 17640355. 
  9. ^ a b c "Wild Camel". Wild Camel Protection Foundation. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  10. ^ a b c d "13. Bactrian Camel (Camelus ferus)". Evolutionarily Distinct & Globally Endangered. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  11. ^ Video showing wild Bactrian camels eating snow.
  12. ^ Yi, Li; Ai, Yisi; Ming, Liang; Hai, Le; He, Jing; Guo, Fu-Cheng; Qiao, Xiang-Yu; Ji, Rimutu (2017-05-01). "Molecular diversity and phylogenetic analysis of domestic and wild Bactrian camel populations based on the mitochondrial ATP8 and ATP6 genes". Livestock Science. 199 (Supplement C): 95–100. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2017.03.015. 
  13. ^ Potts (2004), p. 145.
  14. ^ a b Bannikov, A. G. (1976). "Wild camels of the Gobi". Wildlife: 398. 
  15. ^ a b Hare (2009), p. 197.
  16. ^ Schaller, George B. (1998-07-20). Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe. University of Chicago Press. p. 152. ISBN 9780226736525. 
  17. ^ Hare (2009), pp. 6, 28.
  18. ^ a b "'New' camel lives on salty water". 6 February 2001. 
  19. ^ "Wild Camels". Retrieved 2016-09-26. 
  20. ^ "Wild Bactrian Camels Critically Endangered, Group Says". National geographic Service News. 3 December 2002. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  21. ^ a b c d "New' camel lives on salty water". BBC Nature. 6 February 2001. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  22. ^ a b Hare (2008).
  23. ^ Kara Rogers. The Last Wild Camels. Encyclopædia Britannica Blog. (Posted: February 18, 2010). Retrieved on 2012-12-19.
  24. ^ Camelus ferus (Bactrian Camel, Wild Bactrian Camel). Retrieved on 2012-12-19.
  25. ^ tabaristan: Caspian Tiger. Retrieved on 2012-12-19.
  26. ^ Martin W. Lewis (12 April 2012). "Pleistocene Park: The Regeneration of the Mammoth Steppe?". GeoCurrents. Retrieved 2 May 2013. 
  27. ^ Kruglova, Lidia (2 May 2011). "Pleistocene Park: so far without mammoths". Voice of Russia. Retrieved 5 May 2013. 


  • Bulliet, Richard W. (1975). The Camel and the Wheel. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. 
  • Hare, J (2008). "Camelus ferus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.2. IUCN. Retrieved 9 November 2012. 
  • Hare, John (2009). Mysteries of the Gobi: Searching for Wild Camels and Lost Cities in the Heart of Asia. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 978-1-84511-512-8. 
  • Potts, D. T. (2004). "Camel Hybridization and the Role of Camelus Bactrianus in the Ancient Near East". Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient. 47: 143–165. doi:10.1163/1568520041262314. 
  • "Bactrian camel". Saving the World's Most Extraordinary Species. EDGE of Existence. 
  • "Discovery of camels in the Gashun Gobi region". BBC. 

External linksEdit

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