In the early 1980s,
a scientific observation team penetrated
Baylungdui, an area of grotesque, wind-eroded shapes in southeastern
Xinjiang, traversed the dried-up salt lake of Lop Nur, and then
came to the Kum Kuduk Desert. It was there that they noticed some
white specks against the distant
horizon. As they gradually drew
nearer, everyone's astonishment turned to excitement as they
speedily accelerated to pursue the herd of wild camels which stared
in surprise at the oncoming vehicles . Two or three hundred meters
before the team reached the herd, the camels, probably sensing
some kind of danger, bestirred their long legs and lowered their
heads, and galloped off at a tremendous speed.
Wild camels, also known as Bactrian camels, are typical
dwellers. Originating in China and Mongolia, they are distributed
throughout Xinjiang, Qinghai, Inner Mongolia and Gansu provinces.
In Xinjiang they are to be found in the eastern part of the Tarim
Basin, in a vast barren region with Lop Nur in the center and
bordered by the Hotan River to the west, Yumenguan to the east,
the Piqan Desert to the north and the AItun Mountains to the south.
This extensive area ranges between 500 and 2,500 meters above
sea level. Xinjiang's wild camel population today numbers around
Wild camels are large herbivorous ungulates of the Camelidae
family. They are about the same size as domesticated Mongolian
camels, with light-brown coats, long sinuous necks and small, short
tails. Their most prominent feature are the two fatty humps which
protrude from their backs. Camels have huge, round, splayed feet
with thick pads which are ideally suited to crossing hot, dry deserts.
On the chest and knees they have several horny pads which are
where the tremendous weight of their huge bulk is sup ported when
they kneel down to rest for long periods. Wild camels possess double
eyelids and two rows of eyelashes to protect their eyes against the
desert sand whipped up by the wind. They also have the ability to
close their nostrils to prevent wind-blown sand from getting into
Wild camels are especially adapted to survive in
harsh, dry desert
conditions. They feed on all kinds of coarse plants that grow in
saline soil, including cactuses, although they consider the longthorned
but highly nutritious camel thorn the tastiest. Hardy beasts,
they are able to go without sustenance for up to a month, needing
only to lick up salt spots which have formed on the ground in order
to carry on as normal. In these circumstances, they make use of the
large nut ritional reserves stored in the fatty tissue of their humps.
Wild camels are also extremely resistant to drought as their blood
is specially adapted to retain water. This means that they can go for
over ten days without water and suffer no ill effects. On top of this,
they are able to slake their thirst with the bitterest, saltiest water
necessary. Camels have a very highly developed sense of smell and
can detect the pres ence of a spring up to a mile away, as well as the
advent of a sud den windstorm. As they can smell humans from as
faraway as twenty kilometers, if the wind is in the right direction,
they are consequently able to avoid capture in good time.
Wild camels usually move around in small groups of
thirteen, each group consisting of a full-grown male with his females
and their young. The rutting season occurs at the beginning of
spring, and, the gestation period of camels being thirteen months,
the young are born at the end of spring in the following year. Camels
have a two-year breeding period, usually producing one offspring at
a time. The wild camel herds in the Lop Nur region have fairly weI!
established grazing grounds, water sources and rest areas which
they regularly move between, often leaving indented:"camel trails"
in the salt crust and desert sand. These camels are terrified of fire
and stay faraway from the smoke issuing from human habitations.
For them, the deserted wastes of Lop Nur, with not a wisp of smoke
from cooking fires, are a real paradise.
Mongolian camels are wild camels which have long
Their better living conditions have meant that they are not
so long-limbed or long-necked as wild camels, but both types have
thesame origins, and theytooare able to go forlong periodswithout
food or water,aswellas carryheavy loads.Theirsteadyrolling gait
as they trek across vast expanses of desert has earned them the
name "ships of the desert.".
Camel hair is soft and warm and can be used in the
of padded clothing, as well as yarn, knitwear, and camel-hair rugs.
Camel hide can be made into leather, and the meat is good to eat,
but the most treasured part of the camel is its hump, which rivals
even bear's paw as a delicacy. Camel milk, too, is highly nutritious.
Wild camels are a rarity throughout the world, and
.so China has
designated them a first-class protected species.