In addition to the domestic camels that the nomads depend on, a population of wild Bactrian camel lives within a part of the Gobi Desert. This population is distinct from domesticated herds both in genetic makeup and behavior. Another difference is the ability of these wild camels to drink saltwater slush, although whether the camel can extract useful water from it is not yet certain. Domesticated camels are unable to drink such salty water. It is thought that only about 350 Bactrian camels exist while there are about two million in the domesticated population.

The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel. Bactrian camels have long, shaggy hair which keep them warm in the winter. In the summer months they shed, leaving them almost naked. The lifespan of Bactrian camels can be up to 50 years. They are able to eat plants that are dry, prickly, salty and/or bitter, and can ingest virtually any kind of vegetation. Their sense of sight is well developed and the sense of smell is extremely good.

Children start learning about animals at a very early age. Domesticated Bactrians are well known as beast of burden, often carrying 1000 pounds for as many as 30 miles in the scorching heat and sand of their native environment, or in the very cold. They also provide milk, wool, meat, hides, sinew and bone. Their fiber is used for rope, cords, fine paint brushes and warm, long-napped cloth.

An encounter with the wild camels
It was late in the day, during our Gobi trek, when we noticed five wild Bactrian camels approaching from the south. Bill figured they would run off, but I wasn’t so sure. Bolder than the first group we had seen earlier, they kept on toward us. This group meant business, particularly the bull in the lead. He trotted ahead of his harem, bellowing his annoyance of our invasion of his territory. Defenseless and without retreat as an option we gathered a pile of rocks. The bull was now only two hundred feet away still roaring through yellow teeth.

Green slime dripped from his mouth. Gray wool trailed from his shaggy sides. He was a sight right out of a horror movie. We shouted and threw rocks as fast as we could pick them up. The bull paused. His harem caught up as he silently watched, probably amazed at our bizarre performance. A large specimen, he looked enormous to two anxious humans. Cautious now, he took a few more determined paces toward us. Now sheer desperation improved our aim, and a few rocks hit him with a whack. After one rock found him squarely between his eyes, he spun and, with his harem close behind, he galloped away without a backward glance. The wild camels faded into the deepening dusk and our pounding hearts slowed.

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