They are called the ‘Ships of the desert’ and people ride camels to cross the deserts. Camels are perfectly adapted to life in a harsh, dry desert. They can carry a heavy load and walk for many days under the hottest sun. During cooler months, camels can sometimes go six months without drinking water. In very hot weather, they may go a week or more.

They do not store water in their humps, however. Camel humps are filled with fat. When camels finally do drink, they may take in enormous amounts of water. When the weather is hot, a camel may drink as much as 35 gallons in as little as six minutes. A really thirsty camel may drink more than 50 gallons in one day.

Domesticated:

The majority of camels on earth are domestic, which means they are owned and cared for by people. Camels provide people with hair to make clothes and tents, they provide meat and milk, and they even provide entertainment in the form of races. In return, people feed and care for camels. The camels need people to draw them water up out of deep wells. Sometimes when it is raining and water is plentiful, camels try and return to their wild roots by breaking away from their owners.

Favourite food:

Camels can make a meal out of hard and dry twigs. But if they are given the choice, their favourite food would be salty plants and even thorns.

Breeding them:

Camels are often bred by their owners to increase stock, but there is a regular mating season. Male camels have long, sharp front teeth that are used to fight other males over females.

In a camel fight, each animal nips at the other with its teeth and tries to force the other to the ground. Fights generally do not cause serious injury.

Their homes:

South American camels include vicunas and guanacos. People specially bred the guanacos to produce two newer species: the alpacas and the llamas. All of these South American camels are smaller than their relatives in the Old World, and none of them have humps.

Two-humped Bactrian camels live in the mountainous areas of Asia, where temperatures can vary from 20 degrees below zero in winter to 122 degrees Fahrenheit in summer. And the one-humped dromedary camel lives in flatter lands of Africa and Asia, with an additional population that was introduced by people into Australia.

The future of dromedaries and Bactrian camels is tied to the future of nomads in Africa and Asia. As long as there are nomadic tribes in the deserts and mountains, there will be camels with them, because they will need the animals to survive. Wild Bactrian camels have a less certain fate, because people in Asia are taking over their water holes to develop the land. Vicunas and guanacos are now protected.

Fact file:

• Camels are perfectly adapted to life in a harsh, dry desert.

• During cooler months, camels can sometimes go six months without drinking water.

• In very hot weather, they may go a week or more.

• They do not store water in their humps. The humps are filled with fat.

• A really thirsty camel may drink more than 50 gallons of water in one day.

• Camels’ favourite food would be salty plants and even thorns.