The Wild Bactrian Camel
There are approximately 450 wild Bactrian camels in the Mongolian Great Gobi Reserve A south of Bayan Toroi and approximately 650 additional camels further south in Xinjiang Province, China, living in three isolated and separated pockets. The wild Bactrian camel is an incredible creature that lives in one of the world’s harshest environments and in some areas in China, in the absence of fresh water, has adapted to drinking salt water slush which no other mammal can tolerate.
In the Mongolian Gobi its main enemy is the wolf. Further south in China it is the threat from hunters and illegal miners. In the Chinese Gashun Gobi there is no fresh water and this former nuclear test site holds herds of wild camels that have not only adapted to drinking salt water slush, but have also survived over 43 atmospheric nuclear tests. Samples of skin taken from the remains of dead Bactrian camels have been sent to scientists for genetic DNA testing and in every case, the results have been remarkable. Each skin sample has shown two or three distinct genetic differences to the domestic Bactrian camel and a base variation of three per cent. This answers the charge that the wild camel is a domestic runaway and points to the fact that the wild camel herds are relicts of an original wild stock that man first domesticated over 4000 years ago.
Only the wild camels, in the Gashun Gobi in Xinjiang, are completely isolated from domestic camels. This lack of an opportunity to hybridize is what makes their survival so vital. It is these remnant herds that the Wild Camel Protection Foundation a registered UK charity since 1997 whose patron is Dr Jane Goodall DBE, is striving to save. The charity has helped to establish the 175,000 square kilometre Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve in China and inaugurated the captive wild Bactrian camel breeding programme at Zakhyn Us in Mongolia.