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Bactrian Camel Camelus bactrianus
Gilbert the original white, or dun coloured Bactrian camel

There is a joke about a camel being a horse designed by a committee, but in fact the camel's ungainly shape is just one of a whole bundle of adaptations to life in inhospitably hot - or, with Bactrians, also cold - parts of the globe.

The shape provides a large surface area for cooling. Camel's body temperature can somehow rise several degrees without disaster, and they can survive a much greater degree of dehydration than ordinary mammals such as humans. Once water is available, camels can replace an enormous water loss in one great drinking session.

The humps, of course, are a fat store, like the Mexican Beaded Lizard's fat tail.

The many hairs protect eyes and ears from dust-storms, and, surprisingly, the flexible lips are seemingly unhurt by the tough, thorny plants ( typical of desert areas ) which camels love.

The shedding in May and June of the Bactrian camel's thick winter coat produces a distinctly moth-eaten appearance.

The first camels evolved in North America; some gradually crossed to Asia; others moved to

South America, becoming the Llamas and their relatives. The survival abilities of camels were appreciated by man, and may have been domesticated 5,000 years ago. Camel's adaptations include a woolly coat, and uniquely, oval shaped red blood cells allowing extra oxygen-carrying capacity vital in the high Andes. Their unusual mating behaviour involves the female's squatting on the ground.

Our original pair of chocolate brown Bactrian camels was purchased for 1000 (with the assistance of a 50% grant from the former Glasgow Corporation) in 1973. At the time the Soviet Union had just released a herd of about one hundred into the world trade, to help raise desperately needed foreign currency. After twelve months quarantine at Belle Vue Zoo, Manchester, our pair arrived in Glasgow, and our stock was descended from them.

Every few years we had to change our male to prevent inbreeding. Our original male went to Windsor Safari Park, being replaced by " Gilbert , a dun-coloured male from Whipsnade Zoo.

Gilbert later moved on to become 'king' of the herd at Longleat Safari Park and his place was taken by a young chocolate coloured male " Caspar " from Whipsnade. The oldest of the dun females was " Gealan " which is Gaelic for 'little white thing' . It seemed very fitting soon after she was born, but as she towered over us as an adult, it may have been a touch inappropriate.