Zakhyn Us – Mongolia
Founded by the Wild Camel Protection Foundation
The only captive wild Bactrian camel breeding centre in the world.
In 2003, the Wild Camel Protection Foundation approached the Mongolian government to see if it were possible to be given a site where a wild Bactrian camel breeding programme could be established. The Mongolian government generously donated a suitable area, near Bayan Torooi, a small town near the Great Gobi Reserve A, where the wild Bactrian camel is protected in the wild in Mongolia. That place is called Zakhyn-Us. At this site the Wild Camel Protection Foundation has erected a strong boundary fence, a barn for hay storage and three pens where captive wild camels and newly-born calves can find shelter from extreme weather conditions. This is important because the wild camel, which has a gestation period of 13 weeks, both mates and gives birth during the coldest months of the year – December to April. The Mongolian winter months can be very, very severe with temperatures dropping to –40 degrees centigrade. The fence was erected during October. Even during this month, a fire had to be lit to soften the ground before the fence posts could be driven into the soil. It was as hard as concrete.
A fresh water spring, which is just outside the fenced area, flows under the fence providing a year-round supply of fresh water. In the Lop Nur Wild Camel Nature Reserve in China, near China’s former nuclear test site, the water is salty, so salty that the domestic Bactrian camel will not touch it. Only the wild Bactrian camel manages to survive on this salt-water slush which bubbles up from underground springs. The wild camels in China would, however, much prefer to drink sweet water if they could get it. Fortunately, the captive wild camels at Zakhyn-Us have an ample supply, which is constantly replenished from underground.
Because the wild camel in Mongolia, lives in an area near domestic Bactrian camels, there has been some cross breeding over the years. This results in the birth of what we call hybrid camels, half-domestic and half-wild stock. Herdsmen frequently kill these hybrids, as they are very difficult to control as they grow into adulthood. It is important that we are absolutely certain that the wild Bactrian camels in captivity at Zakhyn-Us are of pure wild camel stock. In order to check this, tests are currently being carried out to check the DNA of the captive camels hair and blood. When these tests are complete, we will know whether all the captive camels are pure wild Bactrian camels.
During the summer months, when the frenzy of mating has subsided and the months of birth are at an end , the captive camels are released from the fenced area so that they can graze as a herd near their natural homeland. During this time they are constantly supervised by a Mongolian herdsman and his family who are employed to look after the captive wild camels. At the same time, the grass in the penned area is given a chance to recover.
The captive wild Bactrian camels that had been caught during the last 15 years by Mongolian herdsmen, were formally grazing with domestic Bactrian camels. When they became difficult to handle they were frequently badly treated or even released back into the desert. Now they are kept together as one herd and are supervised by Mongolians who realise their great value.
This blog was written by John Hare and Kate Rae, Directors of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation. For more information on the captive breeding centre, or to support this work please contact John on Harecamel@aol.com.