Domestication of Camels

The dromedary had been domesticated on the borders of Arabia by 1800 B.C., a fact confirmed by the finding of Middle Bronze Age remains of camels at ancient urban sites in Israel. Dromedaries were subsequently introduced to North Africa, the Nile Valley, and the Middle East as far as northwestern India. They appeared in the Roman arenas about 29 B.C. and were later used in chariot races. In modern times 20 of the animals were imported into Australia as carriers for the ill-fated Burke-Wills expedition which crossed the Australian continent in 1860-1861, and the descendants of these camels still live there. Dromedaries were also used in the United States after the Mexican War of the 1840′s, on mail and express routes across the newly acquired arid regions, but they were later killed.

Less is known of the history of the Bactrian camel. Remains found at Shah Tepe in Iran and at Anau in Turkestan, dating from about 3000 B. C., have been tentatively assigned to this species. It probably had a wide distribution as a wild animal in central and northwestern Asia in prehistoric times. By the 6th century B.C., Bactrians were domesticated in Persia.

Camels have often been used militarily. For example, a military camel corps was formed for the Gordon relief expedition of 1884-1885, and the French Saharan Camel Corps was largely responsible for the pacification of Algeria during the 19th century. About 3 million camels were used in World war I, and 50,000 in World War II.

Camels are still of great importance in desert countries as beasts of burden. A dromedary can carry 600 pounds for 30 miles in a day, and a bactrian can carry up to 1,000 pounds.

Camel hair is used for making clothes, tents, and carpets. The milk is nutritious, the flesh tastes somewhat like beef, and the liver is considered a delicacy.