Written by Lindsay Taylor, Education officer, Flamingo Land
It’s that time of year when our Bactrian camels are shedding their hair! This natural process happens annually, and makes our camels look very shabby. The camels can lose up to five pounds of hair per year, and it will fall away from the body in clumps, making their coat appear quite unattractive. This process will take around six to eight weeks to complete fully, so it is a very long, drawn out makeover! The moulting of the hair helps keep the camels cool during the warmer summer months, before thickening again ready for winter. Shedding occurs in camels of all ages, including our newest addition, Hetty, who was born in February this year.
Bactrian camels are critically endangered animals found in the Gobi desert in Asia. Despite there being numerous domesticated camels, the Bactrian camel population is less than 1,000, with around 600 individuals in China and 350 in Mongolia. Unfortunately the population numbers are decreasing due to several threats. Camels are hunted for their meat by local nearby residents. Droughts can affect the camels, due to a decrease in water pools making it harder for them to find sources of water. The pools which are remaining may also have populations of wolves which may predate on the camels. Their habitat is also being invaded by farmers and their livestock. Conservation efforts in Mongolia and China are in place to protect these camels in their natural habitat, however breeding programmes within zoos is also extremely important to maintain the population numbers. Female camels only give birth around every two years, and they are pregnant for between 12 and 14 months, so their reproductive rate is fairly slow.
Despite the camels living in such a harsh environment, and facing lots of threats, they are very well adapted to their habitat. The camels have very long eyelashes and they are able to close their nostrils to prevent sand from blowing into them. They have fat in their humps which they are able to break down into water and energy if they’re struggling to find natural water sources. Camels also have large feet which help to spread their weight whilst walking through the sand dunes in the desert.