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Why Are Camels Used For Transportation In The Desert? (5 Big Reasons!)

Camels are used to transport goods and passengers in the desert because of their huge tolerance to food and water deprivation, and because they can carry a heavy load during long-distance travels. They are the best mode of transportation there.

Ever since we domesticated camels, around 5,000 BC, we have been their favorite travel companion. 

Remember the long camel caravans, spices, and the Silk Road?

In areas where no other animal could survive, camels thrived. 

Here is what allowed them to do that, and the 5 main reasons why camels are used for transport in the desert explained in depth.

why are camels used for transport in the desert

Key Points

  • Camels are ideal for desert transportation due to their endurance and water-saving abilities.
  • They can carry heavy loads, walk long distances, and have adapted feet for sandy terrain.
  • Camel milk is nutritious, and their urine and feces have been used for various purposes.

Why Are Camels Used For Transportation In The Desert

1. Camels Can Survive Extreme Desert Temperatures Without Losing Too Much Water

Camels can endure long desert voyages because of their thick fur, special nostrils, kidneys, hump, intestines, and blood cells.

Deserts are not just dangerous because of the intense heat during the day.

Yes, the average temperature gets to around 100° F throughout the day ( 38° C), but a big problem is a night when the temperature falls to an average of 25° F (-3.9° C).

Camels have solved that problem by growing thick fur that can be up to 14.9 inches long (37.5cm). 

Not only does it keep them warm during cold nights, but it also protects their skin from burning during the day. No burning means no sweating – which helps save precious water.

Another way a camel saves water is due to its flexible nostrils and nasal passages

During the night, when the camel inhales the cold air, it passes through 155 square inches of the nasal surface area (1000 cm2) and cools it down. After that, the air gets into the lungs and becomes warm. 

When the camel exhales, that warm air passes over the cool nasal surfaces and gets cooled down as a result. 

As it cools, water vapor in the air condenses onto the nasal surfaces as liquid water.

That water gets to the camel’s lips through nasal grooves and helps with water conservation.

Their kidneys play a role in saving water too. They are in charge of concentrating the animal’s urine and reducing its flow. As a result, their concentrated urine has small amounts of water.

Camels also have their world-famous characteristic, the hump.

Their hump allows them to store up to 170 lbs of fat they will later use (80 kg). And crossing long camel caravan routes in the Sahara desert seems like a perfect opportunity to spend it, no? 

When there is no food and water available, a camel will break down that fat tissue into energy and water. If the animal goes long without sustenance, a camel hump can be visibly seen slumping to the side.

Their extremely long intestine allows them to absorb every last drop of water from the foods they find in the desert. Also, it produces very dry feces that contain almost no water.

Finally, their oval-shaped blood cells.

Camel can survive losing over a third of their body weight in water. What allows them to do so are their small and oval blood cells. 

When you’re dehydrated, your blood volume decreases, so to keep your blood pressure steady, your blood vessels shrink. Also, dehydrated blood gets thick, and blood cells start to stick to one another.

The oval shape of the camel’s cells allows its blood to circulate and the camel to function properly, even in a dehydrated state.[1]

Also, those blood cells can expand up to 240% of their original volume without rupturing. This allows the camel to drink an obscene amount of water to recover from dehydration, 53 gallons (200 liters) in three minutes, to be precise.

Further reading: Are camels warm-blooded animals?

2. Camels Can Carry Heavy Loads

Camels are very powerful animals that can carry a 600-pound heavy load (270 kg) for 60-70 miles per day (95-110km). They can also walk for 12 hours straight and survive without water for 10-15 days.

When the English explorers set to investigate the desert regions of the Outback in Australia in the 19th century, the climate proved to be too harsh, even for the most resilient horses and mules. 

Learning from the Arab people that have been using camels as pack animals for centuries, they took the animal on their travel, and the animal repaid their faith. 

It could cross great distances, it could carry a great load, and it seemed unaffected by the hot climate. 

Thanks to their special way of walking, pacing, camels were able to cross 60 miles per day; there were even records of strong male camels walking over 75 miles a day (120km).

Even later in history, during World War 1, camels were used to transport food, water, ammunition, and wounded soldiers across the front.

3. Their Special Feet Allow Them To Easily Walk On Sand

Camels have broad padded feet that allow them to move more easily in sand.

camel wide padded feet
Camel’s wide and padded feet

Their feet are perfectly suited for walking on the sandy surface of the desert. 

Wide and large feet help distribute the weight on the sand, the thick padding protects the bottom of the feet from burning. 

Their wide webbed feet prevent the heavy animal from sinking in the sand and work as anchors during the strong sandstorm winds.

Camels also have long and thick legs that allow them to have a longer stride, conserve water and energy, and keep the body away from the burning sand. That’s why people call a camel “a ship of the desert”.

4. Their Milk Is Nutritious

Camels can produce around 1 gallon of milk (5 l) per day. Their milk is very nutritious and can serve as food for members of the desert caravan.

The milk is low in fat and high in vitamin C.

Compared to cow’s milk, camel’s milk has more fat, three times the vitamin C, and a bit more protein.

Bedouins have been also using the milk to make shubat, an alcoholic fermented camel’s milk.

5. Camel Urine And Feces Help With Different Diseases

People on the Arabian Peninsula have been using camel urine to cure various diseases throughout history. It is said that it helps with stomach, liver, hair, teeth, skin, and fungal problems. And camel feces can help with dysentery. 

The Bedouins are known to drink about 3.3 oz (100ml) of urine mixed with milk every day. They say it keeps them fresh and healthy.

Also, if you run out of water in the desert, you can resort to drinking camel urine to survive.

A study from 2014 concluded that camel urine can be very effective for treating human and plant fungal diseases and that there are no visible side effects from using it. [2]

Also, fresh camel feces contains Bacillus subtilis, a bacteria that has positive benefits for human stomach flora. It destroys different microbes, including the ones that cause dysentery.

And in case you feel cold during the night, camel dung contains big amounts of cellulose which makes it highly flammable. It burns well and can be used for heating, among other things.

Final Thoughts

And there you have it, top 5 reasons why camels are used for transportation in the desert.

Because of their endurance and the ability to save water during long desert travels, camels are perfect to use. Their bodies can go for many days without food and water, they can carry a heavy load, and walk 12h a day. Their milk, urine, and feces can be also used in those travels.

After all, camels are called ships of the desert for a reason. And these ships are worth a lot to people in the desert.

We hope you found our article on camels as a means of transport amusing and interesting.


[1] Soliman, Mostafa Kandil. “Functional anatomical adaptations of dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) and ecological evolutionary impacts in KSA.” International Conference on Plant, Marine and Environmental Sciences (PMES-2015) Jan. 2015.

[2] Al-Awadi, Ahlam, and Awatif Al-Judaibi. “Effects of heating and storage on the antifungal activity of camel urine.” Clinical Microbiology: Open Access (2014).

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