The Camel - The all purpose desert vehicle

Two camel rest after a long journey in the desert.

Seeing a camel for the first time as it lopes along on its gangling legs, its nose in the air and its hump swaying from side to side, one is truly amazed.

Why the strange hump, the long neck, the spindly legs, and the huge round feet, not to mention those long, curly eyelashes?

A brief study of the camel shows that its different parts were obviously designed in such a way as to enable it to adapt to a hot, arid climate.

These parts are not mere accidents of nature. They give the camel a distinct advantage in this difficult part of the world.

Why such a long neck?

Picture of a camels long neck.

This gives the camel an advantage similar to that of the giraffe, enabling it to eat from trees.

Like the giraffe, it often feeds on the thorny, acacia-type trees that are common in the Sahel.

Most of the year, it does not rain, so there is often not much vegetation available on the ground; the trees survive because of their long roots and become the obvious food for camels.

Why the long legs and the strange feet?

Picture of a camel walking on desert sand.

As well as contributing to the camel’s height advantage for feeding, its long legs give it the added benefit of speed.

From a distance the Arabian camel seems to be sauntering along at a leisurely pace, but pedestrians who try to keep up with one soon realize that each step of the camel covers a lot of ground.

The large, roundish feet are quite soft and seem to spread out as the camel steps down, giving it the advantage of being able to walk easily on sand.

The small, hard hoof of a cow or a horse tends to sink into sand, but the camel stays on top.

The bottom of the foot is covered with a thick callus from birth, and these prevent burns from the hot desert sand.

Camels find it difficult to walk in mud, though; hence, their disappearance from the southern Sahel during the rainy season.

Their masters take them into the desert so that they will not slip and possibly break a leg or otherwise injure themselves.

Why the famous hump?

Picture of camel with two humps.

Some will tell you that it is for storing water, but it is actually composed mainly of fat and is really for food storage.

An underfed camel often has a diminished hump, which sometimes even sags or flops over, but after a few weeks of good feeding, the hump is eventually restored.

Incidentally, the Bactrian, or two-humped, camel, which is better suited to the colder deserts of central Asia, is quite easily interbred with the one-humped camel.

Why those long curly eyelashes?

Picture of camel up close.

Long before modern fashion invented long, false eyelashes, camels had the real thing, and not simply for beauty.

They protect the eyes from the blowing sand, thus enabling the camel to continue on the move where other animals would be blinded and have to stop.

The long, slit-shaped nostrils complement the eyes by filtering out sand when the camel inhales and by limiting water loss by extracting moisture when it exhales.

This, as well as other characteristics, gives the camel its renowned ability to go several days without drinking.

Without difficulty it can survive a water loss of up to a third of its body weight. But when it does drink, be prepared.

Camels have been known to consume up to 35 gallons [135 L] of water in ten minutes to replace the water they have lost.

Thus, although it may seem unusual to some, the the above facts explain why the camel clearly adapted to the desert.