A description of desert is incomplete till one speaks about the ship of desert -- Camel. Camels can walk continuously for days, without tiring. The two types of camels those can be found in deserts are the one-humped (known as dromedary) and the two-humped, shorter-legged (known as Bactrian camel). The one-humped camel is found normally in the Arabian deserts, while the two-humped camel is generally seen in Thar and other Asian deserts. Both type of camels have capacity to bear heat and cope up with dehydration.
It does not need to drink water for days as it can take water in a very large volume and quantity at one time to make up for previous fluid loss and store the same for future consumption. Furthermore, the stomachs of camels have 3 compartments enabling them to absorb the water slowly and as and when required; their erythrocytes can swell to 240% of normal size without bursting enabling them to store sufficient quantity of water at on point of time. Whereas other species can go only upto 130%.) The nature has designed their kidneys in such a way that their urine is concentrated enough to reduce loss of water and have twice of salt contents than the sea-water. The camel can withstand large fluctuations of body temperature. During the day, its body acts as a heat sink, and during the night, which is very cool in the desert, excess body heat is dissipated by the process of conduction. Camels of India are of dromedary type (camelus dreomedarius ). These are broadly classified into Baggage and Riding camels. Some breeds have been classified on the basis of body structures which include – Bikaneri, Jaisalmeri, Sindhi, Marwari, Mewari and Kutchi. The height of adults at anther is 2 to 2.2 metres of Bikaneri breed with 2 colour variation from light sandy to dark blackish brown. Reddish brown coloured animals are the most priced one. A small number of double – humped camels (camelus bactrians) are found in Ladakh region (cold desert) of the country. The bactrian camels are mostly found in China, Mongolia, Russia and north-eastern provinces of India. The pulse rate ranges from 36 to 82 in different seasons and is relatively lower in the animals above 3 years of age. The respiratory frequency ranges from 7-20 min. Rectal temperature ranges from 35.8 to 38.1 oC. The breeding season starts in India from mid-October to March. The males exhibit optimum rut during December to February. The overall mean gestation length is 389.3 +/- 0.78 days and intercaloring period ranges from 700 to 800 days. Camel is well known as a source of draft power and is a great potential source of milk, meat, hair and hide. It can very efficiently utilize various adaptive mechanism which are most suited to the life in desert, for example – urea, water retention, thermo-regulation, absorbtion of salty water, ingestion of salty bushes etc., and have extraordinary ability to sustain metabolism and function during water deprivation. Unique quality of camel lies in its respiratory tract which is able to supply enough oxygen, still conserving water that is lost in the heat of summer, particularly where drinking water is not available. It could drink 40–80 litres of water at a time or more depending upon body weight and period of dehydration.
The four compartments of camel’s gastric system have been designated as compartments 1, 2, 3 and an additional hind stomach. The camel serves multiple purposes in the desert. The desert people largely depend on the camel for survival. It can carry heavy loads and apart from being used as a carrier to transport goods and ferrying people, its hair and skin are used for weaving and shoe making, knowns as Jutis in the local language in the Indian desert state of Rajasthan. Camel's milk is nutritious and has sufficient quantum of potassium, iron and Vitamin C and has lower fat element in it. Camels normally stand more than 6 feet at the shoulder and 7 feet at the hump level. Its weight depends upon many factors but a fully-grown adult camel can weigh up to 700 to 800 Kgm. It has a capacity to carry load upto half of its weight. It is found in variety of colours though the common sight is of a brown or creamy shade. It has got comparatively very small but sharp ears and the same have in built fur to prevent dust and sand particles to make a place in the ear canal. Its large eyes have big and curly lashes to prevent the sand particles going in and serves as a shield to protect it from the scorching sun. The camel with its broad and flat feet with two toes in each foot and its thin but strong legs are capable to work regularly, yet it requires continuous rest for some days intermittently before getting ready to work. The camel is normally a peace loving animal, though at times it becomes angry and rarely wild too. It has got a sharp sixth sense and intelligence and can easily recognize its master without even seeing him. Because of its strong and unique physique and intelligence, the camels have made a place for themselves in the Indian Army. The victory of Indian forces over Pakistan in 1965 and 1971 in the desert sectors would not have been possible without the active participation of camels. As far as eating habits are concerned, the camel, like an elephant is vegetarian by preference and opts for locally available grass Jawar and Bajra and can eat hard bushes and food grains with his sharp 34 teeth. It does not chew food but gulps down and stores the same. The typical style of moving the feet and the limping humps reflects an image of a moving boat, bestowing the title ’Ship of the desert’. The normal speed for a camel is about 5 to 7 Km per hour though racing camels can reach upto 20 Km per hour at the gallop. In the olden times, travellers used them to carry good and supplies across the plains of Asia. The short legged breed of camel known as Bactrian camel can carry a load of more than 550 pounds. It can run for several hours at stretch and can cover upto 30 to 40 Km a day on dry plateaus and climbing along hilltops of more than 5000 feet high with comfort and without much of stress. The Camel festival is held in the desert town of Bikaner, located in the northern part of Rajasthan. The beautifully decorated camels pass through a magnificent parade near the historical Junagarh Fort. The armymen like the footwork and the dancing skills displayed by the camels charm the spectators. The festival’s main attraction is the camel race which has lots of thrill, anxiety and excitement.