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Why Are Camels Called Beasts Of Burden?

Beasts of burden are domesticated animals that are employed to carry heavy loads or to perform other heavy work (such as pulling a plow). Such animals are usually camels, horses, donkeys, mules, or oxen.

Have you ever wondered why are camels called beasts of burden?

In this article, we will be explaining why is that so, how heavy a burden can camels carry, and how has their carrying role been replaced.

why are camels called beasts of burden

Why Are Camels Called Beasts Of Burden?

Camels are called beasts of burden because they are able to carry an extremely heavy load for a long time and travel great distances in the desert. Camels are some of the oldest-known pack animals and are most often used in terrains where vehicles would find it difficult to move. 

Besides camels, elephants, water buffalos, oxen, reindeer, elephants, llamas, sheep, goats, yaks, and even dogs are used to transport freight. 

It was first thought that the Bactrian camel got domesticated in China and Mongolia, some 5,000–6,000 years ago, and dromedary about 4,000 years ago on the Arabian Peninsula. 

However, scientists recently discovered that a series of camel rock carvings in Saudi Arabia are between 7,000 and 8,000 years old, hinting that the dromedary camel got domesticated a lot earlier than first thought. [1]

Since they domesticated them, humans have used camels to transport different goods, like silk, spice, textile, gold, bronze, books, spices, medicines, ceramics, furniture, and other luxury goods. 

In China, around the 7th century A.D., there was a big demand for camels as beasts of burden and also as suppliers of meat and hair.

And most likely, camels were first herded for their meat and milk, and only later ridden and used for transport. 

The Bible mentions camels being used as beasts of burden animals in the early 3rd millennium and late 2nd millennium BC. [2

By far, the greatest use of these ships of the desert has been on the Silk Road. This 5,000-mile-long route connected China and the Far East with the Middle East and Europe. A typical caravan had between 100 and 12,000 camels moving from one place to the other, carrying passengers and goods. The use of the Bactrian as a pack animal made the trade from China to Rome possible; later, desert-adapted dromedaries were also employed.

In medieval Persia, poetry lovers were often compared to camels who bear their burdens patiently and hurry to their master’s voice or flute.

Even later, during WW1, camels were used to carry ammunition, food, water, meds, and wounded men on the battlefield. In WW2, Kuznechik, a famous Bactrian camel, carried food, water, and cooking utensils for the Allies, and even reached the steps of the Reichstag in Berlin, where it spat at the building. 

How Big Burden Can Camels Carry?

A camel is a strong beast of burden that can carry over a 600-pound heavy load (270 kg) for 60-70 miles (95-110km), pull 2650 lbs (1200 kg) on a two-wheeled cart for 8-10 hours, and plow as much as a pair of donkeys or oxen.

For larger camels, a standard burden-carrying day includes a 440 lbs load (200 kg) and 6-8 working hours. When they carry a lighter load, camels can cover 30 miles per day (50 km). Strong male camels are known to cover over 75 miles in a day (120km).

The heaviest ever recorded weight a camel tried to carry was around 1900 lbs (860 kg). Unfortunately, the animal died while doing so. 

To make it easier for a camel to transport a heavy load, a cart can be attached to it. It is said that a strong camel can pull a 2650 lbs (1200 kg) cart at a speed of 1.5-2.5 mph (2.5-4 km/h) for 8-10 hours per day. In Australia, 16 camels together pulled a 20-tonne heavy burden.

Besides being used as beasts of burden, camels can plow, harrow, dredge ditches, scoop dams, pull artillery, lift water from wells, crush ore, grind oilseed, etc. 

Camels store fat in their humps. When there is no food and water available, they can transform that fat into food and energy. This allows them to cross great distances and survive carrying such a heavy load, even with no water.

How Has The Use Of Camels As Beasts Of Burden Been Affected By Jeeps?

Most recently, camels are being replaced by motorized vehicles like jeeps and trucks. Jeeps are a lot faster than camels and can carry a heavier load. They do not need rest, as camels do, and cost less to maintain.

Even in Australia at the start of the 19th century, when the English settlers started exploring the arid Outback region, they used camels. However, as the automobile industry progressed, camels became outdated and got replaced by rails, trains, and other vehicles.

Final Thoughts

This brings our article going over why are camels called beasts of burden to an end. We have tried to explain that this saying means that camels can carry huge weight for a long period and cross great distances in the desert. Camels are able to carry over 600 pounds, and throughout history have been used as beasts of burden carrying people, food, water, and other goods.


[1] Guagnin, Maria, et al. “Life-sized Neolithic camel sculptures in Arabia: A scientific assessment of the craftsmanship and age of the Camel Site reliefs.” Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2021): 103165.

[2] Yam, Barat Ali Zarei, and Morteza Khomeiri. “Introduction to Camel origin, history, raising, characteristics, and wool, hair and skin: A Review.” Research Journal of Agriculture and Environmental Management 4.11 (2015): 496-508.

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