An Ultimate Ungulate Fact SheetReturn to Artiodactyla

Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Chordata
    Class: Mammalia
      Order: Artiodactyla
        Family: Camelidae
          Genus: Camelus

Camelus bactrianus

      Bactrian camel


Camelus bactrianus [Linnaeus, 1758].  
Citation: Syst. Nat., 10th ed., 1:65.
Type locality: "Bactria" (= Uzbekistan, Bokhara) (domesticated stock).

Click on the pictures above for a larger view of the photographs

General Characteristics

Body Length: 300 cm / 10 ft.
Shoulder Height: 180-230 cm / 6-7.6 ft.
Tail Length: 50 cm / 20 in.
Weight: 600-1000 kg / 1320-2200 lb.

The long, wooly coat varies in colour from dark brown to sandy beige.  There is a mane and beard of long hair on the neck and throat, with hairs up to 25 cm / 10 in long.  The shaggy winter coat is shed extremely rapidly, with huge sections peeling off at once, almost as if it were shorn off.  There are two humps on the back, which are composed of fat (not water as sometimes thought).  The face is long and somewhat triangular, with a split upper lip.  There are long eyelashes, which, along with the sealable nostrils, help to keep out dust in the frequent sandstorms which occur.  The two broad toes on each foot have undivided soles and are able to spread widely as an adaptation to walking on sand.

Ontogeny and Reproduction

Gestation Period: 12-14 months.
Young per Birth: 1, rarely 2
Weaning: At 1-2 years.
Sexual Maturity: Females at 3-4 years, males around 5-6 years.
Life span: 40 years.

The birthing season peaks in March-April.

Ecology and Behavior

Bactrian camels are extremely adept at withstanding wide variations in temperature - from freezing cold to blistering heat.  They have a remarkable ability to go without water for months at a time, but when water is available they may drink up to 57 liters at once.  When well fed, the humps are plump and erect, but as resources decline the humps shrink and lean to the side.  The rolling gait of the camel is accomplished by stepping forwards with both legs on the same side, much like the giraffe.  Speeds of up to 65 kmph / 40 mph have been recorded under extreme pressure.  As pack animals, these ungulates are virtually unsurpassed, able to carry 170-270 kg / 375-600 lbs at a rate of 47 km per day, or 4 kmph over a period of four days.  Bactrian camels are said to be good swimmers.  The sense of sight is well developed and the sense of smell is extremely good.  The population density of wild Bactrian camels is calculated to be 5 animals per 100 square kilometers.

Family group: In small groups of 6-30 females and young led by an adult male, or solitary.
Diet: Leaves, grasses, shrubs.
Main Predators: None known.


Desert and steppes in the Gobi desert.

Range Map (of wild camels, redrawn from Schaller, 1998)

Conservation Status

While domesticated camels number over 2 million, the wild Bactrian camel is classified as endangered by the IUCN (1996),


A simple way to remember which camel is a Bactrian and which is a Dromedary - if you rotate the first letter of the name so it sits flat, you will get the number of (visible) humps.  Camelus ferus is sometimes used as a synonym for C. bactrianus.  The Bactrian camel was domesticated at least 4,500 years ago in, appropriately, Bactria, near what is presently Turkmenia and northern Iran.  From there, their use as draft and pack animals spread into China, where they formed the main source of transportation on the Silk Road.  Camelus (Latin) a camel.  Bactria is a province of the ancient Persian empire; -anus (Latin) suffix meaning belonging to.

Literature Cited

Klingel, H.  1990.  Camels.   In Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Mammals.  Edited by S. P. Parker.  New York: McGraw-Hill.  Volume 5, pp. 85-96.

Nowak, R. M. [editor]. 1991. Walker's Mammals of the World (Fifth Edition). Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Schaller, G. B. 1998.  Wild Bactrian Camel. In Wildlife of the Tibetan Steppe. By George Schaller. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. pp. 151-162.

Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder [editors]. 1993. Mammal Species of the World (Second Edition). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.  Available online at

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© Brent Huffman,
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