Do Camels Migrate? (Where And Why!)

Yes, camels migrate. Camels are migratory animals that move from one region to another according to the seasons. Nomads are known to move their herds in search of food and water. First camels migrated from North America to Africa and Asia and wild Bactrian camels living in the Gobi desert migrate seasonally during cold winter months.

Migration is the seasonal movement of animals from one habitat to another in search of food, better conditions, or fulfillment of reproductive needs. 

Throughout history, camels have been migrating from one place to the other. After all, camels originally started in North America and ended up in Africa, Asia, and even Australia.

Here are the main reasons where and why camels migrate.

do camels migrate

Where Do Camels Camels Migrate?

During winter, wild Bactrian camels migrate to the Gobi desert steppe, a big ecoregion that borders many rivers, and has a less harsh climate for camels. Herders and their camels in Pakistan, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, and Ethiopia, all migrate in pursuit of grazing and drinking water.

The Gobi is a cold desert. Temperatures in January can sometimes drop down to -40 degrees F (-40 degrees C). That’s why wild Bactrian camels living in China and Mongolia move to an ecoregion there with a milder climate, the Eastern Gobi Desert Steppe. [1]

Camel handlers in Pakistan are either nomadic, seminomadic, or sedentary. The nomads there are known to migrate throughout the Cholistan area while seminomads live at a base camp and migrate with their camels depending on the availability of fodder and water. [2]

In Sudan, camel herders migrate north in the wet season and south during the dry season in search of water and pasture and escape from insects. Camel owners in the regions of Sinnar and North Kardofan, where food and water supply shortages are a serious issue, will adopt a long migration route to the south. [3]

Sudan and Egypt share open borders when it comes to camel migrations for grazing. They let them pass borders freely, and this can lead to the spreading of different diseases among camels (for example, pulmonary infections). [4]

In Kenya, camels migrate from most counties to the Kinna area of Isiolo, which is a dry season grazing area. Moving camels from Moyale to Marsabit for trade, and from Wajir to North Horr is standard there. [5]

In Ethiopia, camel herds can migrate once or up to six times per year. Migration distances can be very short or extend over 125 miles (200 km). [6]

And when it comes to reasons why camels migrate, there are a few.

Why Do Camels Migrate?

Droughts, the pursuit of food and drinking water, diseases, and the camel trade, impact their migrations. In the Middle East and Africa, Dromedary owners move their camels from one country to another to participate in various camel festivals and camel races. Before that, large camel caravans moved from one area to another, carrying goods for trade.

In the Gobi desert, rivers have little constant flow and mostly circulate during the summer. Vegetation there is very scattered and rare. Most of it includes plants and shrubs adapted to drought.

Because there is not enough fresh water, the Wild Bactrian camels adapted to drinking extremely salty water and eating salty bushes.

Such migrations make them more vulnerable to different predators, as there is a bigger chance of meeting wolves at the available water sources.

Humans have had a severe impact on the migration of camels in different areas of the world. Typically camel migrations paralleled human migrations, as these animals were often used for transport, milk, food, skin, and similar.

Humans used camels to transport goods on the Silk Road, a network of trade routes that connected China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. A typical caravan had between 500 and 12,000 camels moving from one place to the other.

These migrations opened up roads for genetic diversity in both the Dromedary and Bactrian camels we know today and probably made them more resilient to environmental changes. [7]

Also, some camel festivals in the world can include over 14,000 camels participating, adding to huge seasonal migrations of these animals.

In West Africa, herders also move their animals during the rainy season to reduce the risk of trypanosomiasis, also known as sleeping sickness, that is transmitted by the bite of an infected tsetse fly. [8]

Camel Migration Through History

Since the first camel appeared in North America, camels have been migrating in search of food and better living conditions. Some camels crossed the Bering Isthmus and migrated into Asia, ultimately reaching Europe and Africa. Others crossed the Panama Isthmus, migrated into South America, and evolved into modern-day llamas, vicunas, alpacas, and guanacos.

Camels first started in the southwest part of North America around 45 million years ago.

In pursuit of food, around 7 million years ago, a camel’s relative called Paracamelus, crossed the land bridge that connected Asia and North America and migrated into Asia.

Its fossils have been found in Spain, China, Russia, Turkey, Romania, Northern Africa, Arabian Peninsula, and even Canada. That’s a big distance covered, considering it started in North America.

On the other side of the continent, about 3 million years ago, members of the tribe Hemiauchenia passed the land bridge Isthmus of Panama and got into South America, giving rise to camels of the New World.

In 19 century, to help them explore Australia, English explorers used camels. They moved thousands of them there, expanding the camel’s reach to almost every continent of the planet.

Conclusion

And there you have it! Camel migrations examined in depth.

Camels are migratory animals that change many habitats in pursuit of food and water. They migrated from North America to Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America. Modern Wild Bactrian camels can be seen migrating during snowy winter months to Gobi desert steppes that have some food and water. In spring, they migrate back to the desert.

Luckily for them, camels have thick fur which helps them survive such extremely low temperatures. 

We hope you found the article interesting and that we managed to answer the question “do camels migrate” properly.

References

[1] Encyclopædia Britannica, www.britannica.com

[2] Zheng, Jian, et al. “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus seropositivity in camel handlers and their families, Pakistan.” Emerging infectious diseases 25.12 (2019): 2307.

[3] Ishag, I. A., M. O. Eisa, and M. K. A. Ahmed. “Phenotypic characteristics of Sudanese camels (Camelus dromedarius).” Livestock Research for Rural Development 23.24 (2011): 4.

[4] Wareth, Gamal, et al. “Subclinical pulmonary pathogenic infection in camels slaughtered in Cairo, Egypt.” The Journal of Infection in Developing Countries 8.07 (2014): 909-913.

[5] Gikonyo, Stephen, et al. “Mapping potential amplification and transmission hotspots for MERS-CoV, Kenya.” EcoHealth 15.2 (2018): 372-387.

[6] Mirkena, Tadele, et al. “Camel production systems in Ethiopia: a review of literature with notes on MERS-CoV risk factors.” Pastoralism 8.1 (2018): 1-17.

[7] Lado, Sara, et al. “Genome-wide diversity and global migration patterns in dromedaries follow ancient caravan routes.” Communications biology 3.1 (2020): 1-8.

[8] Van Veen, TW Schillhorn. “Sense or nonsense? Traditional methods of animal parasitic disease control.” Veterinary parasitology 71.2-3 (1997): 177-194.

Genome-wide diversity and global migration patterns in dromedaries follow ancient caravan routes

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