Are Camels Smart? (Backed By Science)

Measuring human intelligence is hard – measuring a camel’s intelligence is almost impossible. 

While it is easy for us to sit for 7 minutes on our computer and fill out a free IQ test we found online, for camels is not very easy to do so. Yes, took us a while to understand that camels can’t read. 

While Mensa could not help us with our quest to find out how smart camels are, (they only measure human intelligence or something), we consulted the little available literature on camel IQ there is. 

So to determine if camels are smart, we will consider several factors:

  • Camel’s relative brain size
  • Camel’s memory
  • How easy it is to train a camel

Let’s answer the burning question first.

are camels smart

Are Camels Smart?

Despite their rough appearance, camels are smart and confident creatures. They are easy to train and have a great memory. It is said that a camel can remember events for many years, both good and bad ones. They are intelligent animals that have a developed hippocampus, good spatial memory, and learn commands quickly.

There is a big disagreement among people about how much intelligence there is in camels. 

Some claim that camels are not intelligent, rather stupid, and that they do not bond with humans well.

Others have said that camels are quite smart.

Robyn Davidson, an Australian writer, describes them as: [1]

Camels are the most intelligent creatures I know except for dogs, and I would give them an IQ rating roughly equivalent to eight-year-old children. They are affectionate, cheeky, playful, witty, yes witty, well-possessed, patient, hard-working, and endlessly interesting and charming. 

John Hare, an expert on wild Bactrians, stated that Bactrian camels are more intelligent than horses. He quotes one authority on the Chinese Bactrian camels that they pick up English faster than foreigners do. [2

camel learning english quote

How Smart Are Camels?

Determine human intelligence is hard; it gets even harder to measure a camel’s IQ and intelligence. 

Scientists have therefore developed a measurement called Encephalization Quotient (EQ). It is a ratio between actual brain size and expected brain size for given body weight.

EQ has been used as a proxy for intelligence and a possible way of comparing the intelligence of different species.

Since a majority of mammals are expected to have an EQ of 1, an EQ higher than 1 is associated with above-average intelligence. [3

Humans have the largest encephalization quotient and a score of 7.4 – 7.8. [4

Camels have the encephalization quotient (EQ) values of 1.2 and 1.3, which indicates a high level of intelligence. Dromedary camels have an EQ value of 1.2, while Bactrian camels have an EQ value of 1.3. 

Do Camels Have Good Memory?

Camels have an excellent memory. They remember events and what happened for years, especially if mistreated. If the camel has been abused, it will remember the person who did it and might even wait for several years to retaliate and get even. They also have a well-developed hippocampus and great spatial memory. Camels are great learners too.

The hippocampus is a major component of the brain of humans and other vertebrates. It plays an important role in spatial memory and navigation.

The hippocampus of the Bactrian camel is about 2.5 in (6.3 cm) in length and 0.35 in (0.9 cm) in width. This is a similar size to humans and elephants.

However, the relative size of the hippocampus to the cerebrum (the largest and uppermost part of the brain) in the Bactrian camel is much larger when compared to humans and elephants. This might suggest that a camel has a good spatial memory.

Spatial memory is very important for orientation in the desert. There have been recorded cases where abandoned camels returned home from 370 miles (600 km) away.

camel being mistreated quote

How Big Brain Do Camels Have?

Camels have a rather large brain that weighs from 22 oz to 27 oz (626 – 762 g) on average, depending on the species. Dromedary camel has a heavier brain (27 oz) than a Bactrian (22 oz). The size of a camel’s brain is 6 in (15 cm).

A camels’ South American relative, the llama, has a lot smaller brain weighing just 7 oz (200 g).

Are Camels Easy To Train?

If trained properly, the camel will quickly pick up on what is requested from it. It is said that it takes less than a few days to train a camel to stand, sit, and walk with you on a leash, on command.

First, you need to approach the camel and let it get used to you.

After the relationship has been established and the animal has been acquainted with you, you will train the camel to sit and teach it to walk with you on a leash.

As the camel has learned to trust you, training the camel to do anything else becomes rather easy, depending on your goals.

When it comes to camel training, Robyn disagrees with us:

They (camels) are also very difficult to train, being of an essentially undomestic turn of mind as well as extremely bright and perceptive. This is why they have such a bad reputation. If handled badly they can be quite dangerous and recalcitrant.

TL;DR – Are Camels Smart?

Camels are highly intelligent and smart creatures. They are great learners, easy to train, have excellent spatial memory, and have an EQ of 1.3. EQ higher than 1 means above-average intelligence in animals.

This concludes our article on the question “are camels smart”. We hope you found it interesting and learned something new about camels.


References

[1] Robyn Davidson, Tracks (London, 1982), pp. 28–9

[2] John Hare, Shadows Across the Sahara: Travels with Camels from Lake Chad to Tripoli (London, 2003), p. 38.

[3] Chen, Jingchen, et al. “Morphology of Rhinencephalon and Hippocampal formation of the Bactrian Camel (Camelus bactrianus) with their adaptive features.” Veterinary research communications 33.1 (2009): 25-32.

[4] Roth, Gerhard, and Ursula Dicke. “Evolution of the brain and intelligence.” Trends in cognitive sciences 9.5 (2005): 250-257.

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