Mammal of the Week – Wild Camel

The Wild Camel is one of the most endangered large mammals on Earth. Clinging to the remotest pockets of the highly inhospitable Gobi, Taklimakan, and Lop Nur Deserts, there are barely 1,000 of these magnificent animals left on Earth. Even in their last stands, they are still in peril.

There are barely 20 surviving in the remote Taklimakan Desert. It is thought that this population is not viable, and may well be already extinct. One can only hope a handful of camels are still hanging on in this remote region of the Earth.

In the Lop Nur Desert, the most healthy population occurs. Approximately 600 Wild Camels live in a huge region of desert and mountains just to the north of the Tibetan Plateau. Herds can often be observed near springs and waterholes in this remote region. Even here though, they are in grave danger; around 20-30 camels are lost every year to poachers in this region. Luckily, these animals are so far away from Domestic stock that hybridizing will not threaten their populations and the remaining few hundreds may still hold out for many more years in the remote rocks, sands, and dunes of the Gashun Gobi. The animals here have also developed a plethora of adaptations: they can survive by drinking salt water, the only water available. This amazing adaptation allows them to outcompete their predators, such as Wolves, surviving in areas where they cannot. The Lop Nur harbors a variety of other rare residents, including Desert Brown Bears, Tibetan Wolves, Blue Sheep, Tibetan Argali, Mongolian Wild Asses, and Goitered Gazelles, all in need of protection too.

The situation is sadly much worse in Mongolia. An estimated 25-30 animals are lost every year to Wolf Predation and poaching. Here the population is smaller though than that in China, estimated to number barely 350 animals. This is a species in true peril. Here, the animals are living on the edge, barely able to subsist on sparse desert shrubs. They are able to eat snow and ice to obtain water (not salt water though), something that can kill humans, in the frigid (below -40 C) Mongolian winters. Here too, they live with many endangered animals (wolves, bears, argali, gazelles, wild asses) in the remote Great Gobi A Strict Nature Reserve. Proper protection is the only hope for these animals.

What is the future for the Wild Camel? Right now, it’s looking very bleak. At the current rate, catastrophic 80% population declines from current levels are expected (IUCN Red List) within the next three generations (40-50 years)! The only way to save these magnificent creatures is to urge strong captive breeding programs to reintroduce animals in case extinction in the wild does occur, and rigorously guard the remaining viable wild populations in the Lop Nur and Great Gobi A Reserves with utmost care. Perhaps, if this is done, the Wild Camel might have a small chance to recover, potentially a glimmer of hope in the future of an animal who future can only be described as hopeless. I hope the wild camel recovers to its former abundance from its current last stand.

Until next time,


Wild Camel in China’s Lop Nur Desert