The Story Of Wild Animals:
Story Of The Beaver
Story Of The Lion
Story Of The Elk
Story Of The Tiger.
Story Of The Mountain- Lion
Story Of The Camel
Story Of The Jaguar
Story Of The Buffalo.
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Story Of The Camel
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
The Arabs who inhabit desert regions would be helpless without the camel, which animal is to them as essential as the railroad is to the American citizen. Northern Africa and Central Asia embrace regions thousands of miles in extent, in which the camel is almost without exception the only large animal that can thrive on the scant supply of vegetation and water afforded. Hot, burning sand under the torrid sun offers no impediment to the sure-footed "ship of the desert," as the camel is called.
The camels of the Old World, and the llamas of the New, form a group of ruminating animals distinguished widely from the true ruminants, and which probably have had a totally distinct origin from more primitive even-toed members of this group.
The camels of the Old World, of which there are two distinct species, are characterized by their great bodily size and bulk, and the presence of one or two large fatty humps on the back. The feet are broad, with the toes very imperfectly separated; and the tail is comparatively long, reaching nearly to the hocks, and furnished near the end with long hair forming a terminal tuft. Callous pads, on which the animal rests when lying down, and which are present at birth, are found on the chest, the elbows, the wrists (commonly called the knees), and the knees. The whole form of these animals is far from beautiful, while the head is ugly in the extreme; and this want of bodily beauty is accompanied by a viciousness of temper and general stupidity of disposition which can scarcely be paralleled elsewhere among domesticated animals.
The best-known species is the true or Arabian camel, which is found both in Africa and Asia, and is characterized by its single hump. It is a long-limbed animal, with a comparatively short coat of hair, and soft feet, adapted for walking on yielding sandy soil, and standing from about six feet eight inches to seven feet in height. The head is comparatively short, with a long and sloping muzzle, and convex forehead; the eyes are large, with a soft expression ; and the small rounded ears are placed far back on the sides of the head. The contour of the back rises from the setting on of the neck to the loins, and then falls rapidly away to the tail. The hump, when the animal is in good condition, stands upright, but it alters considerably in shape according to age. The richer the food of the camel, the larger is its hump; while, when the food is poor and dry, the hump decreases in size; and accordingly in the rainy season this appendage attains its maximum development, while in the dry months it proportionately shrinks. In high-conditioned animals, the hump should form a regular pyramid, and occupy at least a quarter of the whole length, but when the animals are half-starved it almost disappears. The color of the hair is very variable, although a light sandy is the most common hue, ; there are, however, white, gray, brown, and even totally black camels; but those of the last-named color are held by the Arabs to be worth-less.
The food of the camel in its natural state probably consisted entirely of branches and leaves of trees, and although grain is now largely given, a certain amount of green-food is absolutely essential to the animal's health. No matter how thorny the boughs may be, they are quite acceptable to the camel; and it is perfectly marvellous how the animals manage to eat such food without injury to their mouths. On such a diet, or even on dates, camels will do well; but when compelled to work for days with little or no food, they soon break down, as was disastrously shown in the expedition to Khartum.
The dromedary camel, called by the Arabs the "ship of the desert," be-cause it serves to transport over an ocean of sand the commodities which the nomadic tribes are forced to seek in distant countries, possesses all the requisites for performing long journeys. Robust, docile and patient, it pursues its course with a steady gait, browsing a little on its way, and not needing water for three or four days. The elevated position of its head and its long neck prevent its being suffocated by the sand of the desert; its eyes, defended by thick eyelids, are half closed to avoid the glare of the sun; its fleshy feet are remarkably broad, so that they produce only a slight impression upon the yielding surface of the desert, over which other animals find great difficulty in walking.
Its pace, suited to that of man, renders it admirably adapted to the movement of caravans, in which there is always a crowd of persons on foot. Considered as a beast of burden, the dromedary camel is of unquestionable value in countries where the heat of the sun and the scarcity of food and water preclude the possibility, not only of any other domestic animals bearing burdens, but even of their traveling with speed and safety for great distances.
If the camel may be compared to, a merchant vessel, the dromedary merits the title of a ship of war, since it is suited to the journeys and combats which lead the Arabs to traverse great distances over an ocean of sand.
Considered as a direct auxiliary of man in war, the dromedary may in many cases advantageously replace the horse. That the ancients employed it in war is a fact attested alike by monuments and writers.
Owing to its many services, the pagan Arabs held the dromedary camel in such veneration that they consecrated to the gods three females, which were exempted from labor, and the cream of whose milk was used for libations.
The pack-saddle of the camel consists of a cushion of cloth filled with fibres of the date-tree. The ends of this cushion are doubled together and form the inner part of the pack-saddle. Above this are placed two props or wooden angles, fastened together by two sticks of equal size made fast by means of small cords. The hump of the camel comes between the two branches of the pack-saddle. Two large bags usually constitute the load of a camel. They are suspended to the crosspieces which fasten the reins. The camel carries only a simple bridle attached to a headstall ornamented with tassels, little shells or glass ornaments, and surmounted by a bouquet of cock or ostrich feathers. The leader of the file carries, beside, around his neck, a little bell, the monotonous sound of which encourages the band and distinguishes it from other parties.
The camel is made to kneel during the process of loading or unloading. In order to force him into this position they bear upon his halter, crying "Kha! kha!" The animal exhibits more or less docility, though he never obeys without giving vent to groans either pitiful or enraged, by which, as also by certain movements of the head, he shows that he suffers, that he is sufficiently loaded, or that he dreads the fatigue of the journey. When they are traveling in caravans these cries, repeated every morning by each camel, indicate the moment of departure. The animal is retained in the position requisite for loading by doubling one of the front legs together and tying it at the knee, as it could still rise on three legs; refractory animals are fastened thus by two legs. The camel makes four sudden jerks in sitting, which he does by elevating his hind-quarters first, thus putting his rider or burden in an angle of forty degrees. Great caution, then, is requisite to prevent a dangerous fall. Only a quarter of an hour is required for loading, when the camel rises slowly and commences his journey. The driver, walking behind or at his side, urges him forward by crying, "Da! da! When it becomes requisite to turn the animal to the right or left, it is done by pulling his tail in the opposite direction, and he obeys the movements as a vessel does the action of the rudder.
When a caravan is very numerous, people of the same country or tribe unite and form distinct groups, who journey separately at trifling distances from each other. The column is allowed to spread in proportion to the safety of the route, but is kept close and compact where the converse is the case.
In most instances camels follow their guide or leader of the file, attached to one another by means of a rope fastened behind the pack-saddle of the one, to the headstall of the other.
A caravan en route, or rather a tribe journeying, presents a most picturesque appearance. The camels carry the tents, cooking utensils, and provisions. Others bear canopies of linen or brilliant colored stuffs, on light frameworks made of wood or palm branches. Under these dais repose the women, children, invalids, and oftentimes the young camels which are unable to endure the fatigue of the journey. The men ride barebacked upon the rear ranks of the non-laden camels, and many enjoy tranquil slumber, undisturbed by fear of falling from their perilous position. The chiefs, on horse-back, follow or escort the caravan, and men, on foot or mounted on asses, are scattered here and there the whole length of the file, according as occupation or inclination leads them.
During winter the caravan pursues its way from morning till night with-out stopping; but in summer a few hours, during the hottest portion of the clay, is consecrated to repose. In any case the average number of hours in the day's journey does not exceed ten.
During the journey, the camel looks around for the pasturage he likes, and, by elongating his neck, browses upon it without discontinuing his march. At the evening halt, a locality as rich in pasturage as can be found is selected, the bags and all the luggage of the caravan are deposited in order, and piled around in a circle; the camels separate in search of pasturage, but are kept in sight by the drivers, who fasten their forefeet as a security against their wandering too far away. While the camels are browsing, their driver goes to fill the leathern bottles at the well or spring, if there be one in the locality; if not, the poor animals' only resource is patience.
The camel pays no heed to his rider, pays no attention whether he be on his back or not, walks straight on when once set agoing, merely because he is too stupid to turn aside. Should some tempting thorn or green branch allure him out of the path, he continues to walk on in the new direction, simply because he is too dull to turn back into the right road. He is from first to last an undomesticated and savage animal, rendered serviceable by stupidity alone.
In addition to its value as a beast of burden, the camel is also esteemed by the natives of many countries on account of its milk and flesh, while its hair is woven into ropes and cloth, and in some parts of India its bones are used instead of ivory for inlaying and decorative purposes.
The Bactrian camel of Central Asia is distinguished from the Arabian species, not only by its double hump, but likewise by its inferior height, stouter and more clumsy build, shorter legs, and harder and shorter feet, as well as by the greater length and abundance of the hair. This animal is, in-deed, in all respects, better adapted for a rocky and hilly country than its southern relative; its shorter and stouter limbs rendering it far less liable to accidents in traversing precipitous ascents. The largest development of hair occurs upon the top of the head, the neck and shoulders, the upper part of the fore-limbs, and the humps.
The Bactrian camel feeds chiefly upon the saline and bitter plants of the steppes which are rejected by almost all other animals; and displays a curious partiality for salt, drinking freely at the brackish water and salt lakes, which are so common throughout its habitat. Instead of confining itself to a strictly vegetable diet, the Bactrian camel will, when pressed by hunger, readily devour almost anything that it may come across, including felt-blankets, bones and skins of animals, flesh and fish.
The riding camels are a different breed from those used to carry merchandise, and a swift camel is as highly prized by an Arab as a good horse is prized by Americans or Europeans. The speed of these riding camels considered in connection with their endurance is something remarkable. Egyptian camels have been known to travel a hundred and twenty miles a day. They can go a hundred miles a day easily, and there are authentic cases in Africa of messages having been sent a thousand miles in ten days by camel.
The swiftest breed of the riding camel is known as "El Heirie." The Arabs, in their poetical way of speaking, describe the speed of a heirie something after this manner: "When thou shalt meet a heirie and say to the rider 'Salem Aleik,' ere he shall have answered the 'Aleik Salem' he will be afar off and nearly out of sight, for his swiftness is like the wind."
Although the camel serves its master well, it rarely receives good treatment in return. It is beaten with and without cause. At night its forelegs are tied together while the animal is in a kneeling position, thus preventing it from rising and straying. When it is over-loaded it will not rise, and no amount of beating will make it, although the Arab continues to belabor it with a club which experience should have taught him is perfectly useless under the circumstances.
While the camel always wears a look of weariness and despondency, it is one of the most tireless of animals, and is fitted by nature to undergo hard-ships that would kill the average four-footed beast.