Archive: From Baby Bump to Camel Humps

Bactrian camel born at Detroit Zoo

August 9, 2017

ROYAL OAK, Mich., 

The Detroit Zoo is celebrating the birth of a female Bactrian camel born July 31, 2017, to 9-year-old mother Suren and 9-year-old father Rusty. The duo are also the parents of 3-year-old male Humphrey, born at the Zoo in May 2014. The new calf, named Rusi, can be seen in the camel habitat across from the Horace H. Rackham Memorial Fountain.

“Rusi is finding her footing and is curious about her new surroundings. Like most newborns, she spends a lot of time napping and nursing,” said Scott Carter, chief life sciences officer for the Detroit Zoological Society (DZS). “Suren is an attentive mother and is keeping a close eye on her new little one.”

Camels are born after a gestation period of 12 to 14 months, and a newborn calf is able to stand and walk alongside its mother in as little as 30 minutes. Rusi weighed 125 pounds at birth and currently stands more than 4 feet tall on long, slender legs. Her coat is soft and gray but will eventually grow thick and coarse as it changes to a sandy brown. A camel’s humps are limp at birth, consisting mostly of skin and hair. When Rusi reaches about 6 months old, her humps will become more defined as they fill with fat.

Contrary to popular belief, camels store fat – not water – in their humps, providing energy when food is limited. Bactrian camels have two humps, compared to dromedary camels, which have one. The easiest way to remember this camel trivia is to turn the first letter of the camel’s name on its side – “B” for Bactrian has a double hump and “D” for dromedary has a single hump.

Bactrian camels (Camelus bactrianus) stand about 7 feet tall at the humps and weigh up to 1,600 pounds when they reach maturity at around age 4. They have many physical adaptations for life in a harsh desert environment. Their large, two-toed feet are made to walk across desert sand without sinking, and two rows of long, thick eyelashes and narrow, slit-like nostrils can be quickly closed to keep the blowing sand out.

With the ability to survive in temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, Bactrian camels are well suited to Michigan’s climate. They grow thick winter coats to withstand cold temperatures, and in the summer, their coats shed away in large clumps, often giving them a ragged, unkempt appearance.

While the Bactrian camels at the Detroit Zoo are domestic, wild Bactrian camels are critically endangered, numbering fewer than a thousand in Central and East Asia. “On many days, there are more visitors at the Zoo than there are wild Bactrian camels in the world,” Carter said.

The DZS supports the Wild Camel Protection Foundation, the only charitable environmental foundation in the world with the exclusive objective to protect the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel and its habitat in the Gobi Desert.