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Dromedary Camel (Camelus Dromedarius)

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©AU-IBAR. The dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius).©AU-IBAR. The dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius).


The camel (Family:Camelidae) is one of the oldest animal domesticates as documented in ancient history and the name is derived from the Latin (Camelus) and greek (Kamélos) languages. This animal species is key to the survival of many in the desert and has often been tied to major nomadic ancient civilizations. Camels occur in two distinct phenotypic forms either one humped (Dromedary) or two humped (Bacterian). The dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) (figure 1) often occur in the Middle East and in some isolated parts of Africa (North, Eastern and Central) while the Bacterian (Camelus Bactrianus) are found more often in Central Asia. Most of these animals are reared in nomadic, sedentary and transhumance production systems dependent on the climate type.

Origin, distribution and population status

© AU-IBAR. Figure 1: Women of the Turkana tribe milking a camel.© AU-IBAR. Figure 1: Women of the Turkana tribe milking a camel.The dromedary or one humped camel (Camelus dromedaries) is one of the largest mammalian and domestic ungulates that transverses the earth’s terrain and a common feature of the arid areas of Africa. The unique name is coined from old French and Late Latin words dromadaire and dromedarius respectively, which originated from the Greek language dromas meaning runner or running. As history would have it, dromedaries were first domesticated in the horn of Africa and Southern Arabia in 3,000BC. This camel population is popularly referred to as the “ship of the desert” due to its extensive use in human transportation and ancient trade of goods across the Middle East and North Africa. The estimated camelid population in the world is estimate at 23 million with atleast 90% being dromedaries.

Approximately 11 million dromedaries, representing two thirds of the world’s camel population, are in the arid areas of Africa, particularly in East Africa, i.e. Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Globally and within the continent, Somalia holds the highest dromedary camel population with over 7 million herd followed closely by Sudan (4.7 million), Kenya (2.9 million), Niger (1.7 Million) and Mauritania (1.4 Million) (Table 1).

Table 1: Estimated camel populations across the continent

EasternSudan4,792,000NorthernWestern Sahara110,000
WesternBurkina Faso18,364WesternNigeria278,840
WesternNiger1,720,185WesternBurkina Faso18,364


Signature characteristics

Figure 2: Dromedary Azarghaf breed of Niger (Photo: Niger MOA 2015).Figure 2: Dromedary Azarghaf breed of Niger (Photo: Niger MOA 2015).The dromedary camel is an exemplary animal that has outperformed its counterparts such as the donkey in providing essential services and products to people who live in arid and marginalized areas. Its sterling performance can be attributed to the unique physical and adaptive traits that it possesses. The dromedary camel is a hardy animal with the ability to walk 60km each day carrying up to 250kg on its back. This is often in the hot and dry conditions of the desert. This feat is only attainable due to an array of excellent anatomical and physiological adaptations that allow them to withstand long periods of time without water without any adverse effects. These physiological adaptations include the distinct hump. The hump is a reserve of fatty tissues which are often meticulously metabolized and converted to water and food, thus preventing dehydration and starvation. The camel’s water conserving abilities are numerous, these include, the ability to withstand large body temperature variations of up to 6˚C and little water loss in fecal material and urine. The latter adaptation is due to their efficient kidneys and intestines. Infact the lack of water in their feaces and urine is evident, with reports of their urine being as thick as a syrup and the feaces so dry that their keepers do not require to dry them further to utilize them as a source of fuel.

Dromedary camels have a third clear eyelid and extremely long double layered eyelashes that protects their inner eyes from the effects of sand storms (Figure 2), a common occurrence in the desert as well as the harsh sunlight. In addition, the camel’s nostrils have the ability to completely close preventing any sand from entry. These unique facial features are remarkable evolutionary characteristics. The even-toed ungulate is able to walk with ease on sand due to their large flat feet that spread out, increasing the surface area. These feet are also heavily padded providing additional cushioning from the hot sand, further supporting the animal’s resilience to cover such long distances effectively.Their characteristic thick coats act as insulators from the intense heat and depending on the season, the coat colors lighten increasing reflection of heat waves thus reducing sunburns. The sandy colored coat color is also an excellent camouflage.


Figure 3: Nursing dromedary female camel and calf in Chad (Photo credit: Chad MOA,2015).Figure 3: Nursing dromedary female camel and calf in Chad (Photo credit: Chad MOA,2015).Dromedary camels attain reproductive maturity at three to five years of age and often mate during the mating season that lasts three to five months. The gestation period is approximately 12 months and calves birth weight ranges between 36-39kg. The lactation period ranges between 12-18 months. Female camels produce up to 25 years of age and an average of 8–10 calves during a lifetime (Figure 3). However, high calf mortalities in the first three months is common and the greatest threat to the survival of this offspring is poor management practices and infectious diseases. Often herders do not allow the new-calf to suckle, the first milk thus preventing access to the natural antibodies16 and inevitably lowering immunity. The dromedary camel potential is extensive but has remained relatively
untapped within the continent. There are numerous products that these populations produce.

Camel milk

Figure 4: Packaged camel milk in Kenya (Photo courtesy; milk.html)Figure 4: Packaged camel milk in Kenya (Photo: milk.html)Camel milk is highly nutritious but still only occupies less than 1% of the milk produced globally, far behind buffalo and small ruminants (goats and sheep). From a study undertaken to interrogate the dairy potential of camels versus cows in Ethiopia, farmers in Afar got an average of 1-1.5 liters of milk from the Afar zebu as opposed to 4-5 liters from the Dankil camels. Interestingly, a healthy camel under good management and feed can produce 2000 liters of milk per lactation period. Unlike cattle, camels can maintain an average daily milk yield of up to a year provided fodder and feed are made available and thus are efficient milk producers during drought spells. In terms of the composition, camel milk has been reported to be superior compared to domestic animals such as cattle. Camel milk is also reported to have therapeutic qualities, as it boosts immune systems and lowers blood sugar levels, this is due to the presence of insulin –like substances in the milk, reduced allergic reactions(lactose intolerance), increases blood circulation, prevents aneamia. In addition, given the tropical climate characteristic of the African continent, camel milk possess superior keeping quality this is due to the high protein content (4.02%) which inhibits the growth of bacteria. This is a very important trait, as enables African camel farmers to produce their milk even under poor hygienic conditions.

The camel milk industry is slowly gaining momentum in Africa. In Kenya, camel milk has now been packaged (Figure 4) and is locally available in various supermarkets across the country. Other available camel milk products include ghee, cheese, yoghurt and various ice-cream flavours. There are also numerous traditional fermented camel milk products found in various Africa communities such as Suusac and garris (Kenya, Somalia and Sudan); dhanaan (Somali) and ititu (Ethiopia). Often these products are produced by placing the milk in specially smoked containers to allow spontaneous fermentation to take place.

Camel meat

Camel’s meat demand has grown overtime, and in Eastern Africa, camel butcheries in urban areas are on the increase. Camel meat production is estimated at 22%, 34% and 14% in Eastern Africa, Northern Africa and Western Africa respectively. At average, the carcass of a female dromedary weighs between 250-350kg while that of the male can weigh up to 400kg. Camel meat has various qualities, its low on cholesterol, high in protein and quite tasty.


20170424 1101 06Figure 5: Camel cavalry in Chad (Photo credit: Chad MOA,2015).These animals are excellent and reliable sources of draught power. Over time immemorial, Camels have been used for transportation purposes by most of the herders; this includes the transportation of goods for trade, agricultural produce and humans. They are also used as racing animals, and have been reported to reach a speed of 34km/h. Camel racing is a popular sport in chad and a number one
tourist attraction. Dromedary camels are also used for military purposes especially in desert warfare. Chadian soldiers have been known to use camel cavalries (Figure 5). Ancient history details the use of camels as an effective anti-cavalry weapon as horses were afraid of the camel scent and become disoriented thus granting the camel cavalries victory.

Parting shot

As climate change effects continue to ravage the African continent, human populations that live in the arid and semiarid area will rely more heavily on dromedary camels as a source of milk, meat and draught power. It is therefore pertinent that the continent works towards boosting the camel populations and also focusing on tapping into the economic potential of this very animal.

Further reading

  1. Came”. The New Oxford American Dictionary (2nd Ed.). Oxford University Press, Inc. 2005
  2. Ramet, J (2001) The technology of making cheese from camel milk(Camelus dromedarius) FAO Animal Production and health Paper 113 Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Rome. The Importance of the Camel in Arid Regions
  3. KNOLL, EVA-MARIA, and PAMELA BURGER, editors. Camels in Asia and North Africa: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Their Past and Present Significance. Vol. 18, Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, 2012, Camels in Asia and North Africa: Interdisciplinary perspectives on their past and present significance
  4. Tura, I., G. Kuria, H. Walaga and J. Lesuper, 2010. Camel Breeding Management among the Somali, Sakuye, Gabbra and Rendille Pastoralists of Northern Kenya. Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, Tropentag, September 14-16, 2010, Zurich, Kenya
  5. Dromedary”. Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 27 January 2016
  6. Harper, Douglas. “dromedary”. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 5 May 2016.7.
  7. Mukasa-Mugerwa, E. (1981). The Camel (Camelus Dromedarius): A Bibliographical Review. International Livestock Centre for Africa Monograph. 5. Ethiopia: International Livestock Centre for Africa. pp. 1, 3, 20–21, 65, 67–68.
  8. Almathen, F. et al., 2016. Ancient and modern DNA reveal dynamics of domestication and cross-continental dispersal of the dromedary. vol. 113 no. 24, 6707–6712, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1519508113
  10. Pacholek X., Vias G., Faye B., Faugère O., 2000. Elevage camelin au Niger. Référentiel zootechnique et sanitaire. Publ. Coopération Française, Niamey, Niger, 93 p.
  11. Vann Jones, Kerstin. “What secrets lie within the camel’s hump?”. Sweden: Lund University. Retrieved 7 January 2008
  12. Fun facts about the Camel. The Jungle Store. Retrieved 3 December 2012
  13. Kohler-Rollefson, I.U. (1991). “Camelus dromedarius” (PDF). Mammalian Species. The American Society of Mammalogists (375): 1–8. doi:10.2307/3504297.
  14. Animal adaptations and survival How camels have adapted to their Environment
  15. Halpern, E. Anette (1999). “Camel”. In Mares; Michael A. Deserts. University of Oklahoma Press. pp. 96–97
  16. Farah, Z., Fischer, A., 2004. The camel (C. dromedarius) as a meat and milk animal: handbook and product development. Vdf Hochschulverlag.
  17. Zayed, T et al.,(2014) Milk production potential of some Sudanese camel types I.J.S.N., VOL.5(4)2014:619-621
  18. Richard D., Gerard D., 1985. La production laitière des dromadaires Dankali (Ethiopie). In : Conference internationale sur les productions animales en zones arides. 1985/09/07 –12, Damas (Syrie), MaisonsAlfort, CIRAD-EMVT, 16 p.
  19. Abu-Taraboush HM (1996) Comparison of associative growth and proteolytic activity of yoghurt starters in whole milk from camels and cows. Journal of Dairy Science 79: 366-371Xx
  20. McDowell J (1986) Singular Thought and the Extent of Inner Space.In: Pettit P, McDowell J (eds.) Subject, Thought, and Context. Oxford: Clarendon
  21. Farah Z (1993) Composition and Characteristics of Camel Milk. Journal of Dairy Research 60: 603-626Xx
  22. Sisay F, Awoke K (2015) Review on Production, Quality and Use of Camel Milk in Ethiopia. J Fisheries Livest Prod 3:145. doi:10.4172/2332-2608.1000145
  23. Vital Camel Milk website -VITAL CAMEL MILK LTD.®
  24. Tariq, M., Rabia, R., Jamil, A., Sakhwat, A., Aadil, A., & Muhammad S., 2010. Minerals and Nutritional Composition of Camel (Camelus Dromedarius) Meat in Pakistan. Journal- Chemical Society of Pakistan, Vol 33(6)
  25. Kadim, I.T et al., 2014,Potential of camel meat as non-traditional high quality source of protein for human consumption. Animal Frontiersvol4,No4;13-17
  26. Ahmad S, M Yaqoob, N Hashmi, S Ahmad, MA Zaman and M Tariq, 2010. Economic importance of camel: unique alternative under crisis. Pak Vet J, 30
  27. Cameliers and camels at war. New Zealand History online. History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 30 August 2009. Retrieved 5 December 2012

Dromedary Camel (Camelus Dromedarius)
Date 2017-04-25 Language  English Filesize 2.05 MB