An introduction to the camel

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1 15 Z. Farah Present distribution and economic potential According to FAO statistics there are about 19 million camels in the world, of which 15 million are found in Africa and 4 million in Asia. Of this estimated world population, 17 million are believed to be one-humped dromedary camels (Camelus dromedarius) and 2 millions two-humped (Camelus bactrianus). Approximately 11 million dromedaries, representing two thirds of the world s camel population, are in the arid areas of Africa, particularly in North East Africa, i.e. Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. Table 1: Estimated camel populations of Africa and the world (FAOSTAT Database 2001) Country Camel population Country Camel population (in 1000) (in 1000) Africa: Algeria 240 Morocco 36 Chad 725 Niger 415 Djibouti 70 Nigeria 18 Egypt 120 Senegal 4 Ethiopia 1070 Somalia 6200 Kenya 830 Sudan 3200 Libya 72 Tunisia 231 Mali 467 West Sahara 105 Mauritania 1230 Other regions: China 326 Mongolia 360 India 1030 Pakistan 800 Iraq 76 Saudi Arabia 400

2 16 Most of these animals are kept by pastoralists in subsistence production systems. They are very reliable milk producers during dry seasons and drought years when milk from cattle sheep and goats is scarce. At such times camel can contribute up to 50% of the nutrient intake of the pastoralists. In recent years the picture of moving nomads has changed to some extent. With growing urbanisation the demand for milk among the urban population has been increasing. On the other hand the demand for a number of goods such as grain, oil, sugar and clothes increased among the pastoralists and the milk sales became the most important part of cash income for many camel owning pastoralists. Camel meat is also an important by-product mainly as a source of income. Sale of live camels, usually males and unproductive females for slaughter, is very common in East Africa and there are now increasing numbers of camel butcheries in many urban centres. There is also a growing export trade of slaughter camels to the Arabian Peninsula. The camel is also a means for transportation and for domestic use as drawing water from wells, rivers and dams. From a global perspective, the economic significance of camel production is minimal in comparison with that of other domestic animals. Nevertheless, in Africa, especially in East Africa and Sahel countries, the camel population makes a significant contribution to national economies. However, it is difficult to evaluate this economic contribution as most of the camel products are traded in the informal sector. Owing to the increasing human population and declining per capita production of food in Africa, there is an urgent need to develop marginal resources, such as arid land, and optimise their utilisation through appropriate livestock production systems of which camel production is the most suitable without doubt. Traditional husbandry and management Camels are held by nomads in arid regions. The pastoral land is mainly covered with annual grass, acacias, euphorbias and dwarf bushes. The annual rain fall varies between 100 and 400 mm, the amount of rain varying from year to year and the rains being restricted to widely separated areas. This type of pasture permits only extensive types of animal production. Because of its high mobility, its modest fodder requirement and its water regulation perfectly adapted to the environment, the camel is better suited than any other domestic animal to use this type of pasture. According to the nomads, camels can survive in times of extreme need for up to 30 days without water. This depends, however, on the grazing and prevailing temperatures.

3 Z. Farah 17 The salt requirement of camels is very high and is six to eight times higher than that of other domestic animals. The salt requirement is only partly satisfied by grazing. When the herdsmen observe that the camels are restless, with reduced appetite and milking performance, they take this as a sure sign of salt deficiency. The camels are then driven to salty water sources and watered repeatedly. Alternatively, salt-containing earth collected from other areas is given to the animals. Studies of many nomadic people in several countries show that female animals constitute 70% to 80% of a camel herd. The high number of female animals is needed to satisfy the large milk requirement of the nomad economy. The number of male animals in the herd is reduced in two ways and at two points in the camel s life cycle. A percentage of male calves are slaughtered at birth or within few weeks of it. This allows more milk for female calves and for family consumption or sales. Males not slaughtered at birth are allowed to grow until they are about 4 years old. At this age the majority are castrated, fattened, sold and slaughtered for meat. Reproduction of the herds is achieved by selection of suitable male camels. According to the traditional husbandry, these should have the following characteristics: The bull or its father should have had predominately female progeny with good milk performance; It should be fully grown and strong; It should be a good fighter able to overcome other males. It would be difficult to evaluate to what extent these selection criteria influence the quality of the progeny. One restriction arises from the fact that only the characteristics of the father, and not the characteristics inherited from mother, are taken into account in the selection. In general, breeds of camels are not as differentiated and classified as breeds of other domestic species. In most camel rearing societies, breed classifications are based on names of the ethnic group, clan as well as on the geographical localities where these camels are raised, rather than upon phenotypical characteristics. In Kenya for example there are three main types of camel classified as Somali breed, Rendille/Gabbra breed and Turkana breed. The Somali breed camels are primarily owned by Somali people of North-Eastern province of Kenya and are generally much larger than the other breeds found in the country. Adult females average kg and males kg. Average milk daily yield is 5 kg to 8 kg during a lactation of 10 to 12 months. The Rendille/Gabbra breed is found mainly in Marsabit district amongst the

4 18 Rendille and Gabbra tribes. It is generally smaller than Somali breed camels. Live weights average kg and kg for females and males respectively. Milk yields average 3 to 4 kg, over a lactation of 12 months. The Turkana breed is the smallest camel found in Kenya averaging 350 kg for females and kg for males. Milk yields are much lower than from other breeds and are in average 2 kg to 3 kg per day over a lactation of 9 to 10 months. The small body size and small feet make Turkana camels very swift and able to climb steep lava hills. Fig. 1: Somali breed bull In recent years dromedaries from Pakistan have been introduced in some camel farms in Kenya in order to improve milk production through cross breeding. Camels are slow reproducers. A female camel is sexually mature at the age of 4 5 years. Pregnancy is just over 12 months and the calving interval in pastoral production systems is normally 24 months or more. Female camels can remain fertile up to the age of 25 years and it is often reported that they produce 8 10 calves during a lifetime. In pastoral production systems, however, only a small proportion of the breeding females can reach this production performance. A major problem in camel productivity is the high mortality rate of camel calves in the first 3 months. The causes for mortality are mainly poor management practice and infectious diseases. The new-born calf has no natural protection against diseases, as there is no antibody transfer from the mother during foetal development. The calf can

5 Z. Farah 19 obtain immediate immunisation soon after birth only through the colostrum, which has a very high concentration of antibodies. Therefore, it is vital for the calf to suckle as soon and as much as possible. Unfortunately there is a common belief among many pastoralists that colostrum causes diarrhoea and, consequently, is unsuitable for the new-born calf. This wide spread practice of withholding the colostrum from the new-born calves, depriving them of essential antibodies, is certainly a crucial factor in the frequently reported high calf mortality in pastoral production systems. The milking of camels is a process that varies according to the different pastoral groups. Camels may be milked once or several times a day. In general, it is normal practice among most nomadic tribes to milk their camels in the early morning before animals are taken to grazing and at night when they return from grazing. Before milking, the calf is allowed to suckle until the milk is flowing and then the camel can be milked. Without this stimulation, the dam cannot be milked. The milker stands on one leg, puts the milk pot on the upper part of the other leg, and milks with one or two hands. Sometimes, milking may be done by two persons, each milking two teats. To prevent calves from suckling while at pasture, it is a usual practice to tie up one or more teats with special strings. Fig. 2: Somali breed female with calf

6 20 Fig. 3: Milking of camels Fig. 4: Adult female Somali breed. (Piers Simpkin)

7 Z. Farah 21 Fig. 5: Adult female Turkana breed. (Piers Simpkin) Fig. 6: Adult female Somali/Turkana crossbreed. (Piers Simpkin)

8 22 Fig. 7: Adult female Pakistan breed. (Piers Simpkin) Fig. 8: Pregnant Somali heifer (L) and pregnant mature Rendille/Gabbra female (R). (Chris Field)

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