There are wild camels in Arizona


From the prototype to the camel

The camel ancestral gallery begins around 40 to 50 million years ago in the Eocene. When the dinosaurs were already extinct, the first ancestors of the camels settled in North America.

The prototype was the size of a hare. While he disappeared without a trace throughout history, close relatives were more successful in developing survival strategies. These genera, known by scientists as pre-camels, began to migrate around ten million years ago.

The ancestors of the guanacos and vicuñas populated South America. Others ran from North America to the Old World via the Bering Strait, which was then still at times dry.

In North Africa and Arabia they developed into the single-humped dromedaries, in Asia the two-humped trample. In their original homeland of North America, the ancestors of the camels died out around 10,000 years ago.

General information about camels

Whether camels from the Old or the New World: In the animal kingdom they all make up the callous family. They walk on two fingers, the third and fourth, which are equipped with thick, springy pads.

The camels are also united by their swaying passage through the pass. The legs on one side are always lifted at the same time, which makes a rider sway back and forth like in high seas.

One can distinguish the dromedary and the trample from their American relatives mainly by their physique. Not only do they carry fat humps on their backs as energy reserves. They're also twice as big and significantly heavier. While a full-grown trample weighs up to 1,000 kilograms, a vicuna weighs a maximum of 55 kilograms.


To this day, the trample is widespread in large parts of Asia. However, only a small remainder of around 1000 animals exist as wild animals in remote Chinese and Mongolian deserts. Other than that they can only survive on salt water, not much is known about these shy animals.

As pets, around 4.5 million trample inhabit Asia. They have been domesticated for over 4000 years. The two-humped camel replaces all other farm animals at once: it is a supplier of milk, wool and meat. The manure is used as fuel.

His bones are often used as ivory substitutes by carvers. Without grumbling, it carries loads, pulls carts and lets itself be ridden. It is extremely frugal and friendly.


The dromedary is also very popular as a pet and is widespread in Africa and Arabia. It is not known when the last wild dromedaries became extinct.

The German biologists Birgit Dörges and Jürgen Heucke kept asking about their natural behavior. That is why they have been watching overgrown dromedaries in the Australian outback for over 20 years. The descendants of formerly imported work camels form the last large population of free-range dromedaries there.

The two biologists found out that camel stallions must be in good physical condition. Because bloody territorial fights for their groups of mares and exhausting mating acts are the order of the day during the breeding season. A grueling job that many a stallion willingly pass on to someone of their own sex after a while.

The mares separate from the group at birth after a gestation period of twelve to 14 months. They give birth to their young in a hiding place; the fear that aggressive cops might kill the newborn is too great.

Only after three weeks do they rejoin their group and form a kindergarten together with other mares and their offspring. While one mother takes turns taming the young camels, the others look for food in peace.

Wild relatives from South America - vicuñas and guanacos

A bright whistle as a warning call and the shy vicuñas run away. They are the smallest and most petite camels, but very robust. They defy the icy winters and hot summers on the Andes plateau.

In order to be able to live at an altitude of up to 5500 meters, their heart is unusually large. Their only food is the hard, dry grass of the mountain pastures, which is why they have to drink every day. Their fur has the most cuddly and most expensive wool in the world. It's even finer than cashmere. Only about 300,000 wild vicuñas live in all of South America.

After all, there are twice as many of their relatives, the wild guanacos. They are much more flexible than the vicuñas. The guanacos not only inhabit the lofty heights of the mountains, but also the lowlands of the valleys. They colonize lush pastures and barren grasslands. They are also found in extremely dry areas.

Like their relatives from Africa and Asia, they get enough moisture from leaves and other plants to do without water for a long time.

Porters and wool suppliers - llamas and alpacas

If a llama or alpaca flicks its ears and looks particularly unhappy, it is better to take cover. The animals rarely spit at people, but when the mixture of spit and stomach contents hits them, it is extremely uncomfortable.

The two domestic animal breeds inherited the unsavory behavior from their wild ancestors, the guanacos and vicuñas. Above all, they clarify their hierarchy in the herd.

The llamas were bred from the wild guanacos as pack animals as far back as pre-Columbian times. The large and strong animals can carry up to 35 kilograms without complaint. As a result, they are too weak as mounts, but they are still a popular means of transport in areas that are difficult to access.

The smaller alpacas, on the other hand, are bred for their wool. Whether they descend from the guanacos, the vicuñas or both has not yet been definitively clarified. Especially because of their gentle nature, alpacas and llamas are finding more and more owners in Germany.

Author: Birgit Amrehn