Protecting the wild camel

By Col Stocker

Back in 2019 Anna Jemmett headed out on a research trip to monitor the critically endangered wild camels of Mongolia. You can read the back story here Wild Camels and Poo. She recently headed back out and the Alpkit Foundation were pleased to add a little support to the teams efforts. Thanks Anna for these wonderful images. 

The outdoors is good, that’s for sure. Getting into those wilder places can be beneficial for so many reasons, but it’d be nothing without the animals, the plants, the communities built around them. That’s why it’s important to look after all these places as best we can, whether it’s a local nature reserve or something a bit bigger. Well there’s not many places wilder than the Gobi desert, a home where the future of the wild camel (Camelus ferus) is precarious.

Critically endangered it is already highly threatened with extinction, with climate change further impacting the wild camel’s chances of survival. With an increase in knowledge it is hoped that it will lead to an increased understanding of the threats facing them, as Anna explains.

“The Gobi is already changing, with winds increasing and desertification drying the remaining water points. But, there is currently so little known about the wild camel and what threatens it, that any extra information we gather from this project will increase our knowledge on this species and how it uses the Gobi. and so in turn increases our chances of being able to take action and save it from extinction. I am hopeful that our increased understanding of the species, combined with the hard work and enthusiasm that the many researchers, conservationists and camel aficionados have for this species, means we have a very good chance of making a difference!”

As they haven’t been able to travel to Mongolia since the 2019 field trip it has been up to the wonderful team in Mongolia to continue with the field work in their absence. This involved checking camera traps and collecting samples (when it was both possible and safe to do so), so that research continued, despite covid interruptions. The 2022 field trip was to be focused on collecting these data and samples from the team in Mongolia and also veterinary treatment of the captive camels. The Alpkit Foundation was pleased to help make sure that they were well covered for poo bags and we know now that camel poo bags need to be nice and sturdy! 

Dr Khatnaa the wild camel expert, Dr Adiya a veterinary parasitologist along with a camel herder friend help to monitor and protect the camels. 


“As well as studying the wild population, the Wild Camel Protection Foundation has a captive breeding centre. The reason for this centre is to act as an insurance against extinction. If something was to happen to the population in the wild it is important that there is a population safe in captivity.  
For this reason, it is important that the captive population is kept happy, healthy and well cared for and that we know all the camels individually. Knowsley Safari Park partner with WCPF in providing veterinary care and advice, which they provided much of this field trip. As well as full health checks all of the captive camels were given ear tags. This allows us to identify them easily. We also collected genetic samples from them all- hair and poo, of course! but also tissue samples from the ear tags. “

The outcome of this long term project and the dedicated hours of research is that they can help answer questions such as, how diverse is that population? How are they using their habitat? Is hybridisation with domestic Bactrians a problem? How related are they? Anna explained a bit more.

“Taking the samples home (in Alpkit dry bags, of course) we are able to extract DNA from them. This DNA allows us to answer some of these key questions on the wild camels in Mongolia. The samples we have taken this year from the captive camels will allow us to compare the diversity of the captive population to that of the wild population. And all this data together can help us make decisions on how best to manage the captive population, make decisions on conservation action for the wild population and take actions to overall save the species from extinction. Amazing what you can learn with a little bit of poo and some camera traps!”


Currently there are 34 wild camels at the breeding centre, most of them have a name and the herders in Mongolia know them all individually but it can be difficult to tell them apart, especially when they are young. So we couldn’t leave it there and it would have been rude not to check on how the camels were doing, so we checked in with Anna to make sure they were all ok.

“To make sure all our record keeping is consistent, this year they were given ear tags! An ear tag means they can be identified at a distance, by anyone (often with binoculars). Jen the vet from Knowsley Safari Park, and Khatnaa the Mongolian vet health checked all the camels and gave them their ear tags. So apart from being slightly disgruntled about an ear piercing, all the camels were well. It was a nice time of year to visit the camels as this is calving time. In fact there were two camels born while we were there, both males and both doing very well. A highlight of this trip for me was seeing one of the camel calf’s first steps!”
  


Check here for more information on the efforts of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation 

More Camel facts!
If that didn't give you a suitable camel fix, then here are some more interesting facts. Thanks Anna!

Something that people reading this might not know is that there are actually three separate species of camel. Most people will recognise the dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) which has one hump and the Bactrian (Camelus bactrianus) which has two- these are both domesticated species and are used across the world as farm animals and beasts of burden (You can remember which is which by turning the first letter of its name on its side, a D looks like one hump, a B looks like two- easy!).

The third species is The Wild camel (Camelus ferus) it also has two humps, so until fairly recently it was considered as either a feral Bactrian camel or the wild animal from which the Bactrian was domesticated. Recent genetic studies have shown this to be untrue, and that the wild camel is actually a separate species in its own right. But unfortunately many people still call the wild camel “the wild Bactrian camel” but this is not correct. It is not a wild “Bactrian” camel, but a separate species in its own right.

The wild camel (Camelus ferus) is native to Mongolia and China. In these countries it was known to be a separate species to the domestic Bactrian and had a different name. In Mongolia it is called khavtgai (хавтгай), which means flat head, because it has a flatter skull when compared to the Bactrian. And in China it is called 野骆驼 ye luo tuo, which means “wild camel” 

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