By Rhett A. Butler
An interview with John Hare of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation
Camels are among the most recognizable animals on the planet, yet few realize that wild populations are at a high risk of extinction.
Of the world's two camel species, the Dromedary camel, characterized by a single hump, became extinct in the wild 2,000 years ago. The second species, the two-humped Bactrian camel, was on a similar trajectory until very recently, but still less than 1,000 of the world's 1.4 million Bactrians are wild.
The abundance of domesticated Bactrian camels relative to wild camels doesn’t address the question of whether it matters if another species of camels goes extinct. John Hare, founder and director of the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, argues that it does. Hare says the world will be a poorer place if wild Bactrian camels are allowed to follow their cousins into the sunset. He notes that wild and domesticated Bactrian camels are thought to have diverged some 700,000 years ago and have a 3.5 base genetic difference, more than twice the separation between humans and chimpanzees, suggesting that they may even be independent species.
Wild camels are exceedingly rare today for a variety of reasons, most significantly because of man's ambition to convert them into beasts of burden. A few populations managed to avoid the fate of their brethren by living in one of the world's harshest environments: the Gobi desert of China and Mongolia, an area lacking in fresh water and buffeted by fierce sandstorms and a temperature range of -40 to 56°C (-40 to 133°F). But while wild camels have thrived under these conditions, along with surviving with more than 40 open-air nuclear tests conducted at Lop Nur in the Gobi by the Chinese military, over half of which were more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima, the greatest threat to them today comes from hunters hungering for their meat. More....