Anna Jemmett’s Report on the Zakhyn Us Breeding Centre
The following report is based on personal experiences made during a stay in the Govi-Altai province, Mongolia, from between the 3rd of August to the 21st of October 2011. I was able to stay in Bayantori, Zakhyn Us and surrounding areas due to the support of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation UK. This report aims to outline the daily life of the wild camel herders in the late summer months as well as observations that were made on wild camel behaviour. Possible future goals will also be mentioned.
Daily life at the breeding centre
The family Ger is situated in summer grazing pasture (co-ordinates ). The grazing is based in water available areas which are much lusher and have more grazing than the surrounding desert. The Wild camels are herded, by the family, with domesticated dromedaries. During the summer months the adult camels are turned out and free-ranging whilst the calves are tethered overnight. This management technique is used to stop the mothers leaving with the calves. In the mornings adult females are herded towards the desert whilst calves are un-tethered but monitored throughout the day. The calves were tethered again in the early evening, before the females arrived back. The females returned in the evenings to suckle the calves, usually between 4-6pm but were occasionally later. The calves called to mothers throughout the day, calling became more frequent in the evenings towards the time mothers were due to return. On Tuesday the 20th of August the herd (domestic and wild) were moved to further grazing. Again calves were tethered at night and females free-ranged, returning in the evenings to feed the calves. The male wild camels were not observed in the same area as the females, but seemed to be based near the enclosure at Zakhyn Us (co-ordinates).
Grazing pastures- first (left) and second (right)
Before the wild camels were brought back into the breeding centre at Zakhyn Us the shelter was mucked out and all the fences were checked and repaired. Once the work was finished the camels were brought back into the enclosure for the winter months. The camels were herded back in using horses and motorbikes. On the … the male camels were brought back into Zakyn Us. The females and calves were then brought in on…
The “Hasha” wild camel enclosure. Being cleaned (left) and surrounding habitat (right).
Towards the end of October the building of a house began at Zakyn Us. The aim of which is to have a weather proof base for the Wild camel herder to use over winter. The building began on the 12th of October and was completed on the 22nd of October.
Winter house at Zakhyn Us. Foundations and building process
The original aim of the expedition was to determine behavioural states of the captive bred wild camels and to observe mother young interactions. Because of the management technique of separating mothers and calves and females and males during the summer and early autumnal months it was not possible to gain an accurate study of the natural behaviour within the herd. Individuals were separated so that natural herd interactions were not visable. Also the inclusion of domestic Bactrian camels changed herd dynamics and interactions. Observations were made on the herd and these will be discussed.
Aesthetic differences with domestic Bactrians.
The wild camels show a number of aesthetic differences from domestic Bactrian. Many of these could be dependent upon the time of year. As these observations were made between September and October they may change throughout the year. Further observations and measurements would need to be made to gain a clearer understanding of these differences.
The coat of the wild camel is lighter in colour. The colour is also more general amongst individuals, domestic Bactrian’s show a much wider variety in coat colour. Wild camels show a distinct dorsal stripe that continues from the head onto the tail, which the Bactrian’s lack. The hair on upper front legs is darker than the rest of the coat. During the September/ October period the domestic Bactrian had a much thicker and longer coat than that of the wild, this could change with winter coat.
The wild camels appear to be larger in size, taller, but this could depend upon age of the individual again a greater understanding could be gained with further investigation. The build of the wild camel is more athletic and leaner- even with the same grazing. The humps of the wild camel are smaller than that of the domestic and they are more pointed and upright.
Wild camel female (left) and domestic Bactrian male (right).
When looking at the head of the camel it can be noted that the upper lip is split and either side can move independently. As with most ruminants they lack an upper set of incisor teeth, instead having a cartilage pad. The lower incisors are at an angle from the jaw. When the camel is relaxed the lower lip droops. All these features are present in the wild camel. Photos bellow both show wild camel females relaxed with drooped lower lip. Photo on the right shows the split upper lip.
Communication between individuals appears complex with a number of different vocalisations. Most commonly used vocalisations are a sharp shriek which indicates a warning or anger, as does a short wail. Individuals also call to one another using a long howl (video) and this is both used between mother and calf and also between conspecifics. While separated throughout the day the calves frequently call to mothers even when the females are not visible. Individuals will also still call to one another whilst lying down.
A call/howl to conspecifics in the herd seemed to stimulate movement. It appeared that there was a hierarchy and the lead female initiated movement. This would need to be investigated further, both to determine whether the herd hierarchy is set and also when males are present.
When herded separately both the mothers and the calves would stay in groups containing other wild camels. Although some domestic camels would also be seen to graze with the wild, the wild would always be together. It would be interesting to know when the domestic and wild were introduced, and at what age the calves were when this introduction occurred.
The camels would often show grooming behaviours between conspecifics. This included rubbing the heads and necks together. It would be interesting to determine if this happened between all individuals in the herd.
Towards the end of October the females began to show a number of behaviours that could suggest the beginnings of the rut. They would urinate on the back legs, including urinating and deficating whilst lying down. They were also seen to slap the tail onto the back.
There were four calves born in the spring of 2011 two male and two female. Other members of the herd include the 4 breeding females, two younger females, two large breeding bulls and 4 younger males. In the two months of the trip most interaction was with the calves and mothers, occasionally with the young females. The males were brought in on … and one had still not been located by the time the expedition was complete.