Wild Camels are a Critically Endangered species, and Knowsley Safari are working to try and save them. That sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? There are camels everywhere around the world – racing, working, even feral camels. So how can they be Critically Endangered? What would we need to do?
All the camels commonly seen around the world are either dromedary camels (one humped) or Bactrian camels (two humped). And crucially, they are domestic. This means over time, humans have had a significant degree of influence over their breeding and care.
But across the deserts of Mongolia and China, a population of Bactrian camels evolved completely independently of the domestic species. These camels are wild camels, and they are completely different to domestic camels, although you might not see it at first! They have a flatter head and have adapted to drinking salt water. Researchers think that evolutionarily, the wild camel diverged from the domestic Bactrian camel around 1.1 million years ago! They are completely unique but are now restricted to just three small populations because of illegal mining and hunting. It’s not certain, but there might be less than 1000 left – rarer than the giant panda. For that reason, we want to help save them from extinction.
We are working with the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, a UK charity who in 2004 reached an agreement with the Mongolian Government that allowed them to create a wild camel breeding centre. The breeding centre is at Zakhyn Us in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia – just 25km from the Great Gobi Special Protected Area A, which is the home of one of the remaining wild populations.
The breeding centre is vitally important for the conservation of this beautiful animal. A captive population of a Critically Endangered species can act as a back-up population, just in case! They can also be a source of individuals to reinforce wild populations. But for either of these things to work, the captive populations must be carefully managed so that they are healthy, genetically diverse and sustainable.
This is how we manage all the animals we have at Knowsley Safari, so we are working with WCPF and their Mongolian staff, sharing our expertise in captive animal management, to ensure the camels at the breeding centre are being managed so they can contribute to the conservation of the wild populations when needed.
In September we spent three weeks in Mongolia finding out about the current routine at the breeding centre and individually identifying every camel they have. We had the difficult task of trying to photograph every camel from four different angles to add to their identification sheets, as well as trying to confirm their age, parents and gender. Happily, we successfully profiled 22 of the camels!
The identification sheets are important to have – previously, all this information was only in the herder’s heads, which made planning very difficult. Now we can all access the identification sheets and use them for further research, keeping health records, tracking breeding and making behavioural notes – a brilliant start to our effort to save the Critically Endangered wild camel from extinction.