Bactrian Camel
(Camelus ferus)
This camel is probably the ancestor of all domestic two-humped camels. It is superbly adapted to life in the harsh Gobi Desert, one of the most hostile and fragile regions on the planet. The species can withstand drought, food shortages and even radiation from nuclear weapons testing. Fewer than 1,000 individuals survive today in only four locations. Classified as Critically Endangered, these animals continue to be threatened by hunting, habitat loss, and competition for resources with introduced livestock.
Urgent Conservation Actions
Education, law enforcement and the establishment of a second reserve in China.
Occurs only as a few fragmented populations in northwest China and southwest Mongolia.
The camel differs from other hoofed mammals in that the body load rests not on the hooves but on the sole-pads, and only the front end of the hooves actually touches the ground.

Wild Bactrian camels are the only land mammals capable of drinking brackish or salty water with no ill effects.
Associated Blog Posts
6th Sep 15
  Welcome back to Superhero Sunday here at EDGE!  Last week we met a salamander who can go ten years without eating, a bird who's older than the...  Read

1st Mar 13
Drinking fermented horses milk, racing alongside camels and being deserted in the world’s fifth largest desert. It might not sound like everyone’s cup of...  Read

27th Mar 12
The only true wild camels that still exist are Bactrian camels (Camelus ferus). This species can survive in one of the most hostile environments on Earth, th...  Read

22nd Dec 09
From the 18th to the 30th of November 2009, Adiya (Bactrian Camel EDGE Fellow) and Henry (Steppe Forward Programme Co-ordinator) participated in the Mongolia...  Read

2nd Jul 09
Yuan Lei is an EDGE Fellow working on one of the few remaining wild Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) populations in China. In May he organized a survey ex...  Read

18th May 09
Yuan Lei, one of two EDGE Fellows working on the wild Bactrian camel, tells us here about the environment he encountered during an observation trip in the ba...  Read

23rd Jan 09
News just in from John Hare of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation that hay has been delivered to the captive breeding centre at Zakhyn-Us – just! John...  Read

12th Jan 09
We have just received the following appeal from John Hare at the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, with whom we work for the conservation of the Bactrian cam...  Read

4th Dec 08
Yuan Lei, the EDGE Fellow we support to study the Critically Endangered Bactrian camel in China, has been carrying out his usual monitoring surveys in rece...  Read

24th Jun 08
Earlier this year our Mongolian EDGE Fellow working on the Bactrian camel, Adiya, and John Hare from the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) visited the ...  Read

24th May 08
Adiya is our Mongolian EDGE Fellow studying the wild Bactrian camel. From the 19th to 28th April this year he went on an expedition to Zahyi Us and Great Gob...  Read

8th May 08
Yuanlei, our Chinese EDGE Fellow, recently sent us this update of his work on the Critically Endangered Bactrian camel, just before he headed out into the fi...  Read

7th Mar 08
Yuan Lei our Chinese EDGE Fellow has sent us some information on wild Bactrian camel folklore and how camels have played a major role in peoples lives over m...  Read

26th Feb 08
Here is Part 2 of our Mongolian EDGE Fellow-Adiya's survey of the Great Gobi protected area and buffer zone. (Click here if you haven't already read Par...  Read

20th Feb 08
Adiya Yadamsuren, our Mongolian Bactrian camel EDGE Fellow has just completed his surveys in the Buffer Zone of the Great Gobi Protected Area A in Mongolia....  Read

7th Feb 08
Yuan Lei, our Chinese Bactrian camel EDGE Fellow, recently sent us the post mortem results following the death of the wild camel he and his team from the X...  Read

28th Jan 08
Our Mongolian EDGE Fellow Adiya has just sent us a blog on the project he has been working on in collaboration with researchers from the Denver Zoo and The...  Read

28th Dec 07
On Christmas Eve, the EDGE team received news from Yuan Lei, our Chinese Bactrian Camel EDGE Fellow about his amazing attempt to rescue an injured wild Bactr...  Read

9th Nov 07
Annanba village was chosen as a good site to interview herdsman as this is the only village in the Akesai county that links to, and therefore may influence t...  Read

8th Nov 07
The last blog following Yuan Lei’s expedition of the Aerjin Mountain Reserve in China ended with Yuan and his team stocking up in the Akesai county for the...  Read

30th Oct 07
The EDGE Team have just received news of our Bactrian camel EDGE Fellow Yuan Lei’s expedition to the Heidaban region in the Aerjin Mountain Reserve in Chin...  Read

24th Sep 07
Last month, Yuan Lei’s preparations for his Bactrian camel research were briefly interrupted as he was invited to the Gansu Anxi Extremely Arid Desert Rese...  Read

11th Sep 07
Yuan Lei is currently preparing to go into the field to begin his research into the main threats facing the wild Bactrian camel population in the Lop Nur Nat...  Read

6th Aug 07
Adiya was involved in a UNDP / GEF funded project "Conservation of the Great Gobi Ecosystem and its Endangered Species" earlier this year.  His role in the ...  Read

20th Jul 07
This is the final installment of Oliver Duprey's expedition to the Zakhyn Us wild camel captive breeding centre in Mongolia. Ollie cares for camels at ZSL L...  Read

6th Jul 07
In May, ZSL London Zoo keeper, Oliver Duprey visited the Zakhyn Us wild Bactrian camel captive breeding centre in Mongolia to provide advice on caring for an...  Read

27th Jun 07
I am Oliver Duprey and I work at ZSL London Zoo as a keeper looking after a number of different species including the sloth bears, pygmy hippos and also the ...  Read

19th Jun 07
Lop Nur is is a group of small, seasonal salt lakes and marshes between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts in the southeastern portion of Xinjiang Uighur Au...  Read

16th May 07
The EDGE team is delighted to announce that we have now raised sufficient funds for a second EDGE Fellow, Adya Yadamsuren. Adya would like to express his w...  Read

26th Apr 07
Founded by the Wild Camel Protection Foundation The only captive wild Bactrian camel breeding centre in the world. In 2003, the Wild Camel Protection Fou...  Read

6th Apr 07
There are approximately 450 wild Bactrian camels in the Mongolian Great Gobi Reserve A south of Bayan Toroi and approximately 650 additional camels further s...  Read

Evolutionary Distinctiveness
Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Camelidae

Camelids (llamas, vicuñas, alpacas, guanacos and camels) evolved in North America during the Eocene Epoch, over 46 million years ago. They differ from all other mammals in the shape of their red blood cells, which are oval instead of circular. There are six living species in three genera (the Old World Camelus, and the New World Lama and Vicugna). The ancestors of the true camels migrated across the Bering Strait land bridge to Asia some 3-4 million years ago. Camelids also crossed to South America after the formation of the Isthmus of Panama around 3 million years ago. Camels disappeared from North America completely around 10,000 years ago. Today, only two species of camel are generally recognised to survive: Camelus ferus (Bactrian or two-humped camel) and C. dromedarius (dromedary or one-humped camel).

Head and body length: 225-345 cm
Shoulder height: 180-230 cm
Tail length: 35-55 cm
Weight: 300-690 kg
The two-humped Bactrian camel is smaller and more slender than its domestic relative, and is superbly adapted to life in the harsh Gobi Desert. It has a double row of long eyelashes and hairs inside the ears to protect against damage from sand, and the camel’s long slit-like nostrils can be closed for further protection during sandstorms. The foot has a tough undivided sole consisting of two large toes, which spread apart widely for efficient travel across the shifting desert sands. The camel’s fur, which is a light brown or beige colour, is thick and shaggy during the harsh winters and is shed rapidly in the spring.
Wild camels are diurnal, sleeping at night in open spaces and foraging for food during the day. Shrubs and grass form the bulk of the diet, with the animals being well adapted to feed on thorns, dry vegetation and salty plants, which other herbivores avoid. Excess fat is stored in the humps and used as a reserve when food is scarce. This enables the camels to go for several days at a time without eating or drinking. Upon finding water they will drink vast quantities rapidly to replace what is missing from their bodies - they can take in as much as 57 litres of water to restore the normal amount of body fluid. If no fresh water is available, the species can drink salty or brackish water with no ill effects (camels are the only land mammals adapted for this).

Group size is largely dependent on the amount of food available. Usually the camels can be found travelling in small herds of between 6 and 20 related individuals, led by a single adult male, although larger groups will sometimes congregate around water. The distribution is normally widely scattered, with estimates of population density as low as 5/100 sq km. The camels are highly migratory, and will travel vast distances in search of food and water sources. Breeding usually occurs in winter, often overlapping with the rainy season. Females give birth to their first calf at around 5 years of age and the interbirth interval is usually at least 2 years. Wild camels are thought to live up to 40 years of age.
The camels are migratory, and their habitat ranges from rocky mountain massifs to flat arid desert, stony planes and sand dunes. Conditions are extremely harsh – vegetation is sparse, water sources are limited and temperatures are extreme, ranging from as low as -40°C in winter to 40°C in summer. The camels’ distribution is linked to the availability of water, with large groups congregating near rivers after rain or at the foot of the mountains, where water can be obtained from springs in the summer months, and in the form of snow during the winter.
The species has suffered a drastic reduction in its range. It now occurs only in three separated habitats in northwest China (Lake Lob, Taklimikan desert and the ranges of Arjin Shan) and one in the Trans-Altai Gobi desert of southwest Mongolia. The largest population lives in the Gashun Gobi (Lop Nur) Desert in Xinjiang Province, China, which was for 45 years used as a test site for nuclear weapons.
Population Estimate
There are approximately 600 individuals surviving in China and 350 in Mongolia. In contrast, there are over 2 million domestic Bactrian camels currently living in Central Asia.
Population Trend
Population size is decreasing. The Mongolian population has almost halved in the last twenty years and there is every indication that the situation is just as serious for the Chinese populations.
Classified as Critically Endangered (CR A3de+4ade) on the 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
The species has suffered greatly at the hands of humans. It has lost habitat to mining and industrial development, and has been forced to compete with introduced livestock for food and water. Farmers hunt the camel for this reason, and many individuals are lost every year when the camels migrate out of protected areas and onto land set aside for grazing. Domestic Bactrian camels are amongst the animals introduced to these areas. They graze alongside reserves containing their wild relatives, and there is much concern that interbreeding and subsequent hybridisation will lead to the loss of the genetically distinct wild camel.
Conservation Underway
The species is listed on Appendix I of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS or the Bonn Convention). The governments of China and Mongolia have agreed to cooperate in order to protect the species and its fragile desert ecosystem. Assisted by the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF), the two governments have adopted an ecosystem-based management programme which aims to protect the biodiversity of the Great Gobi Desert. Two reserves have been created – the ‘Great Gobi Reserve A’ in Mongolia in 1982, and the Arjin Shan Lop Nur Nature Reserve in China in 2000. These reserves provide a safe habitat for a wide range of endangered desert animals and plants, as well as the wild camels. The WCPF also aims to increase the population of the species through captive breeding. In 2003 it established a sanctuary in Zakhyn-Us, Mongolia, which has some of the last non-hybridised herds of Bactrian camels. Initial breeding attempts have been successful, with several calves having been born since the programme’s inception.
Conservation Proposed
Education programmes are urgently needed to raise public awareness of the potential negative effects of cross-breeding between the wild camels and their domestic relatives. Protected area laws need to be enforced to prevent encroachment and illegal mining in the reserves. Individuals from the Mongolian reserve frequently migrate across the border to China, where they are either killed by hunters or from eating vegetation poisoned by potassium cyanide (a by-product from the illegal gold mining that occurs here). The WCPF have therefore proposed the establishment of a second reserve in China to protect these animals.
Associated EDGE Community members

Richard Reading is the Director of Conservation Biology at the Denver Zoological Foundation

The Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF), is an international organisation devoted solely to the protection of the wild Bactrian camel

Jonathan is the Conservation Programmes Director at ZSL and manages the EDGE of Existence Project.

Yuan Lei is working to conserve wild Bactrian camels in China

Adiya is from Mongolia and is working to conserve the wild Bactrian camel

GWild will wear ONLY 12 outfits in 12 months for 12 threatened animals to fundraise for their conservation.

I am the Assistant Programme Manager for South and Central Asia at the Zoological Society of London.

The Wild Camel Protection Foundation
A United Kingdom registered charity (est. 1997), with Jane Goodall as its patron. The foundation aims to protect the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus ferus) and its habitat in the fragile and unique desert ecosystems in the Gobi and Gashun Gobi deserts in North West China and South West Mongolia.

Hare, J. 2004. The Wild Bactrian Camel, a Critically Endangered Species. Endangered Species Update 21(1): 32-35.

Hare, J. 2008. Camelus ferus. In: 2010 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2010.4. Downloaded on 12 November 2010.

Nowak, R.M. 1999. Walker's Mammals of the World. Sixth edition. The Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore and London.

The Wild Camel Protection Foundation. (July 2005).

Distribution map based on data provided by the IUCN Global Mammal Assessment.

if you can provide new information to update this species account or to correct any errors, please email us at info@edgeofexistence.org

Forum comments
  1. jorjastandish

    TSK.TSK. This is really sad.:(

    Posted 6 years ago #
  2. Filecraft

    It's rather sad. Thinking the whole situation over, I often ask myself a question: Why are bactrian camels endangered? I can't find an exact answer. Perhaps, like many other species- habitat loss, overhunting, competition with domestic livestock etc. There is a lot of meat on a camel, and considering they were probably once one of the only sources of meat in the area (Mongolia is not renowned for its large herds of game) they would've been of great commercial importance. Unfortunately, camel populations could not reproduce fast enough to make up for these losses, and their numbers drastically fell. That's food for thought...

    Posted 6 years ago #

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