Their eyes are moist and shiny, quite tender-looking but when you get close enough, they make sure you know they don’t belong in a fence.
The moment the herder let me grab onto the hump of one of his camels, I fell in love with them. The hair was so nice to the touch and even in the -10C -ish temperature, it didn’t feel cold at all. They walked very smoothly and it felt really safe sitting between the two humps. How lucky I was. I didn’t come here for the camels, and I didn’t even know they have camels here until I entered the desert.
On the way here, we saw a herd already. My guide told me that that was a group of female with one mating male, who was responsible for taking care of the girls. During the mating season, the chosen male will get on a trance-like period that could last two months long, without eating and drinking so he gets thin enough to mount the girls. “Mad” is the word the herders use to describe the state. Not sure for the lucky male camel, that’s a blessing or a mission impossible.
Two-humped Bactrian camels here are semi-domestic, semi-wild. In the winter time, they stay close to the herder’s home. The mating group stay together, the pregnant females stay together, and the herders use the time to train the other males. In the old times, the camel caravan would set out during winter, trading salt from nearby salt lake for grains from trading posts on the silk road. When spring comes, the females give birth. And after their hairs were cut, the camels would set out on their own, far into the desert, sometimes hundreds of miles away and won’t return home until winter comes again. From even the foot print, the experienced herders can tell if that’s from one of theirs.They use their camels to forecast the weather; they sing to them if a young mother rejects her calf; they talk about their camels as if they are their children. When the buyer comes, the camels know and cry, big tears coming down from their eyes, I was told.
The camels used to be the main livelihood for the herders, their clothes, their dwelling, their transportation, food, all came from camels. The desert needs the camels too, trimming help the grass stays healthy, their long hair help spread the grass seeds, their big feet help cover the holes of the rodents so their number is kept in check. Some of the desert plants are so high in salinity they can only be consumed by camels. Through camels, the herders actually take an important role in the health of the desert ecosystem. That’s an inspiring thought for me, that there is a role for us human for the well-being of the ecosystem other than minimizing our impact and calling others to minimize their impact, and that our participation does not end at solely benefiting and sustaining ourselves, and that there are places on the planet where we are needed and we can be a vital link in the ecosystem, where we could be a positive, contributing player.
How special these camels are.