Taken at MetroZoo in Miami, FL
The Dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius) is a large even-toed ungulate. It is often referred to as the one-humped camel, Arabian camel, or simply as the “dromedary”. Its native range is unclear, but it was probably the Arabian Peninsula. The domesticated form occurs widely in northern Africa and the Middle East; the world’s only population of dromedaries exhibiting wild behaviour is an introduced feral population in Australia.
The dromedary camel is one of the better-known members of the camel family. Other members of the camel family include the llama and the alpaca in South America. The Dromedary has one hump on its back, in contrast to the Bactrian camel which has two. A good mnemonic for remembering which way around these terms apply is this: “Bactrian” begins with “B”, and “Dromedary” begins with “D”; “B” on its side has two humps, while “D” on its side has only one hump.
Adult males grow to a height of 1.8–2.0 m, and females to 1.7–1.9 m. The weight is usually in the range of 400–600 kg for males, with females being 10% lighter. They show remarkable adaptability in body temperature, from 34 °C to 41.7 °C, this being an adaptation to conserve water.
Male dromedaries have a soft palate, which they inflate to produce a deep pink sack, which is often mistaken for a tongue, called a doula in Arabic, hanging out of the sides of their mouth to attract females during the mating season. Dromedaries are also noted for their thick eyelashes and small, hairy ears.
Dromedaries were first domesticated in central or southern Arabia some thousands of years ago. Experts are divided regarding the date: some believe it was around 4000 BC, others as recently as 1400 BC. There are currently almost 13 million domesticated dromedaries, mostly in the area from Western India via Pakistan through Iran to northern Africa. None survive in the wild in their original range, although the escaped population of Australian feral camels is estimated to number at least 300,000. Around the second millennium BC, the dromedary was introduced to Egypt and North Africa. In the Canary Islands, the dromedaries were introduced recently as domestic animals.
Although there are several other camelids, the only other surviving species of true camel today is the Bactrian Camel. The Bactrian camel was domesticated sometime before 2500 BC in Asia, well after the earliest estimates for the dromedary. The Bactrian camel is a stockier, hardier animal, being able to survive from Iran to Tibet. The dromedary is taller and faster: with a rider they can maintain 8-9 mph (13-14.5 km/h) for hours at a time. By comparison, a loaded Bactrian camel moves at about 2.5 mph (4 km/h).
Unlike horses, they kneel for the loading of passengers and cargo. Dromedaries have an ill-deserved reputation for being bad-tempered and obstinate creatures that spit and kick. In reality, they tend to be amiable, patient, and intelligent. A camel will show displeasure by stamping its feet and running. At many of the desert located tourist sites in Egypt, police mounted on camels can be seen.
Around the second millennium BC, camels had become established in the Sahara region but disappeared again from the Sahara beginning around 900 BC. The Persian invasion of Egypt under Cambyses introduced domesticated camels to the area. Domesticated camels were used through much of North Africa, and the Romans maintained a corps of camel warriors to patrol the edge of the desert. The Persian camels, however, were not particularly suited to trading or travel over the Sahara; rare journeys made across the desert were made on horse-drawn chariots.
The stronger and more durable Dromedaries first began to arrive in Africa in the fourth century. It was not until the Islamic conquest of North Africa, however, that these camels became common. While the invasion was accomplished largely on horseback, the new links to the Middle East allowed camels to be imported en masse. These camels were well-suited to long desert journeys and could carry a great deal of cargo. For the first time this allowed substantial trade over the Sahara.