Monday, May 7, 2012

Camel lesson

About ten weeks ago I had a chance to learn a few tricks from camels during my tapering trip by the Red Sea. We learned a few interesting facts by observing and studying those funny and fascinating animals with my son.

Camel racing is a major sport in the Middle East; the distances vary from 5K to over 40K. These days the jockeys are small remote controlled robots. Camels predominantly have slow twitch (Type I) muscle fibers, relying on aerobic metabolic pathways. Camel muscles have very high levels of oxidative enzymes (for example compared to horses).

Camels will run at up to 95% of VO2max before their plasma lactate levels reach 4 mM/l, whereas this occurs in other species at 50-60% of VO2max. The aerobic capacity of camels was 53 ml/kg/min at 30 km/h, which is significantly lower than that in thoroughbreads (100-160 ml/kg/min). This reflects the very low oxygen requirement of camels.

Extremely thirsty camels can drink 100-200 liters (26-52 US gal) of water in one go in hot dry conditions. However camels eating green vegetation can ingest sufficient moisture in milder conditions to maintain adequate body hydration without drinking water. In cold weather a camel may not drink for months, as long as green feed is available - it can get all the water required directly from the plants. Usually in normal conditions camels drink only small to moderate amounts of water, up to 60 liters in 10 days.

Camel's mouth is able to chew any thorny desert plants, branches and bushes. Camels can efficiently digest low quality roughage because of the wide range of ruminal microflora. Contrary to popular belief camels do not store water in their humps, which are actually a fat storage on their back. Otherwise camels are lean and their body fat is very low. If food is not available, camels can live off the fat in the hump for a long time. A camel can lose up to 200 kg in body weight during periods like this.

Camels start to sweat only if their body temperature rises above 41C (106F). The evaporation of sweat keeps their skin cool while their thick coat offers insulation from the intense heat radiation of desert sand. The coat also helps them stay warm during cold nights, when their body temperature may comfortably drop down to 34C (93F). During the day camels prefer to stay up - their long legs keep them far away from the hot ground.

Salt is very important for camels. A camel may need 1 kg of salt a week! Camel urine comes out as a thick syrup, and their feces are dry enough to fuel campsite fires. The average life expectancy of a camel is 40-50 years. A fully grown camel stands 185 cm (6ft 1in) at the shoulder and the hump rises about 75 cm (30 in) out of its body.

The main points are:
  • eat your greens
  • drink water and take some salts if it's hot and you sweat a lot
  • carry some extra food in your backpack just in case.
Here's a video from someone who has a pet camel!


Mike Short said...

Now that's what I call a coincidence. I've just started to do a little cross-training by joining my wife on her horse riding sessions.

Trail Plodder said...


Will said...

wow, that is a lot about camels. I rode one in Morroco about 20 years ago. pretty cool beasts.

Trail Plodder said...

Yeah it's not that far-fetched you know. All those stage running races in African deserts, bedouins think we're crazy to go out there without camels. Much like Western States 100 used to be a horse race and people thought Gordy was nuts to run it himself.