Welcome to Great Great Gobi Kids’ Corner where young people can learn about the Wild Camel!
What is the wild camel?
The wild camel is a critically endangered animal that lives in the Gobi Desert in China and Mongolia. ‘Critically endangered’ means that it’s an animal that will become extinct unless we DO SOMETHING to protect it; once it is extinct, it will be GONE FOREVER!
There are only about 600 left in the wild in China and only about 450 left in Mongolia. This means it is the 8th most endangered large mammal on earth.
Now how is the wild camel any different from normal domestic camels you ask?
Well over the years, scientists who went to study the wild camel in Mongolia and China brought back samples of camel hair, bone and skin to a special laboratory in Vienna (Austria). These samples went through genetic testing and in 2008 a very exciting announcement was made. The scientists said that they had discovered that the wild camel was a completely new and different species that had never been seen before! They said that it had separated from another form of camel over 700,000 years ago! This shows that the wild camel is a very rare animal that has survived over 700,000 years.
What is amazing is that millions of years ago all camels originated in the Arizona Desert in the USA. They crossed over the Bering Strait and spread over Central Asia and North Africa and Arabia from America.
Why is the wild camel special?
In some places in China, it can drink salt water.
It is the only land animal in the world that can do this.
However, what makes this animal even more amazing is that the water that they drink in the Chinese desert is even saltier than the water in the sea!
The wild camel has also managed to survive in an area of the Gobi Desert China called the Gashun Gobi, which was a test site for nuclear testing; and without any apparent effect from the radiation from this nuclear testing – they are still breeding naturally.
The wild camels in the Gashun Gobi in China have developed an ability to adapt to drinking salt water to survive. There is no fresh water in the Gashun Gobi and the area is two thirds the size of France. Just think about that!
The wild camel has two humps that are smaller than the two humps domestic Bactrian camels have (domestic means that they are tame and depend on humans to survive.)
They also have a different shaped skull. The Mongolians call the wild camel ‘khavtagai’ (pronounced: huf-tig-ai) which means ‘flat head’.
This shows that the wild camel really is different from other camels, or the Mongolians wouldn’t have a separate word for them in their own language. This makes them very special.
Why is the wild camel critically endangered?
We have said that the wild camel is critically endangered, but why is this?
In short- the answer is humans, and our greed for precious minerals and metals. In the place where the wild camel lives (the Gobi Desert) there are valuable metals like iron ore which you can make steel with, gold, salts and special substances that can be used to make fertilisers (a mixture of nutrients which makes soil more fertile, which helps plants grow quicker and bigger.) But most importantly, there is oil. We use oil to power cars, trains, aeroplanes and even to heat our houses. Illegal miners come to the Gobi desert and take these things.
The problem is that these miners sometimes kill the camels for food, or just for fun.
Also, as the camels are a migratory species (this means that they eat all of the plants around a water spring and when all of the vegetation has been eaten, they move on to another spring.) As they are following migratory tracks that their species has been using for hundreds of years, when illegal miners drive over them in their vehicles, the camels get confused and lose their way and can’t find food.
Gobi authorities have tried to drive these people out of the desert, but as soon as they are chased out of one area, they return to another; and as the area is so big, they can’t patrol all of it. But the good news is, that by explaining to people (like this page is to you now) especially the miners and villagers who live near where the wild camels are, we can protect the wild camel.
What is the Wild Camel Breeding Centre and what does it do?
The wild camel breeding centre in Mongolia is at a place called Zakhyn Us. It is situated on land in the Buffer Zone of the Great Gobi Special Protected Area ‘A’.
Why situate the Wild Camel Breeding Centre here? Because the wild camel still exists here in the wild. It is it natural habitat.
It is the only breeding centre for wild camels in the world. There are no other wild camels in captivity anywhere.
The point of the breeding centre is to make sure that the wild camel doesn’t become extinct in the wild.
The Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) a UK registered charity, is working with the Mongolian Government to make sure that this doesn’t happen.
The wild camels at the breeding centre were collected from camel herdsmen who had them grazing with their herds of domestic camels. The Mongolian Government then gave permission for the Wild Camel Protection Foundation to fence off an area where the breeding centre is now on and put the 12 captured wild camels inside, where they could be managed and encouraged to breed. Today there are 33 and eight have been released into the Gobi Desert in Mongolia.
The reason WCPF has the breeding centre is simple; if the wild camel died out in China or Mongolia for some reason, there would be no more wild camels living in the wild anywhere in the world. With the wild camels living at the breeding centre, and producing more wild camels it then becomes possible for some of these wild camels to be reintroduced into the wild, and we could hopefully prevent the wild camel from becoming extinct.
However, there are a number of problems we face at the breeding centre, like preventing disease, keeping the wild camels from mating with domesticated camels and making sure that there are enough female camels and not too many male camels at the breeding centre.
Doing this all costs a lot of money and all these funds are raised by the Wild Camel Protection Foundation. But raising enough money is not easy.