• SCIENTIFIC NAME: Camelus dromedarius

  • SWAHILI NAME: Ngamia; Jamali

Most people think of camels as beasts of burden trudging across the desert. Few realize that in many parts of Africa, camels are valued more for their food- and fuel-producing capabilities than for their use as pack animals. Domesticated about 4,000 years ago, the only remaining wild camels live in isolated pockets in Mongolia and China. All other camels are domesticated and are either dromedaries (one-humped) or bactrians (two-humped).





Daily Rhythm




Life span

40 to 50 yrs

Conservation Status



880 to 1,600 lb (400 to 725 kg)


5.5 to 7.0 ft (1.7 to 2.0 m) high at the hump


Listen to the sounds of the Camel

Tracks and Scat

Tracks: Wide and shallow prints; hard nails on each toe and tough soles protect each foot.
Scat: Dung is so dry it can be burned as fuel as soon as it is deposited—no drying time needed.

Camel tracks

Trivia Question

What is a group of camels called?


A group of camels is called a caravan or a flock.

Social Structure

Camels live in family groups of up to 20 individuals. Usually, this includes one male and several females, juveniles, and calves. A male protects his females from other males. Camels usually move in single-file. Females take turns leading the line, and the male brings up the rear.


Communication among camels occurs mainly through body language. A male may position himself between his females and other males, and individuals may snap or kick at each other when irritated or vomit when startled or scared.


​Camels are not particularly aggressive. Even when they snap at each other, they don’t bite. They like to roll in the sand, rub against trees, and scratch their bodies using their teeth or feet. Camels hardly ever sweat even in temperatures reaching 120° F (49° C), which means that the fluids they do consume last a long time. When they do take in water, they drink only what they need to replace what they have used.


Domesticated camels have no conservation status. The wild camels that live in China and Mongolia number less than 1,000 and are listed as critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Range & Habitat

Camels are specially adapted to living in the arid and semiarid regions of Africa. Many live on farms and ranches while others range freely, but under the control of herdsmen.

Camels have adapted to dry habitats with extreme conditions. Camels are famed for their ability to withstand periods of drought and to rehydrate quickly. (They don’t do well in wet, muddy areas.) Their thick, coarse lips enable them to eat thorny plants other animals cannot. Their large, soft padded feet enable them to walk easily on shifting sand or over rocks. Double rows of long eyelashes protect their eyes from blowing dust and sand, and their nostrils close to keep out the same.


Camels will eat almost any desert vegetation, including dry grasses and thorny shrubs. They spend between 8 and 12 hours a day browsing. Unlike many other browsers, camels forage over large areas and eat only a few leaves or shoots from each plant. Besides reducing competition with other browsers, this limits the camel’s intake of potential plant toxins. Camels require a lot of salt in their diet to help them absorb and store water, so they eat a lot of halophytes—plants that love salt. A camel’s hump stores about 80 pounds (36 kg) of fat that the animal can convert to water and protein as needed. Without the resources provided by their humps, camels would not be able to go without water for several weeks while sometimes traveling as far as 100 miles (161 km). As the camel uses this fat supply, the hump shrinks.


Females reach sexual maturity at age three and mate a year or two later. Males aren’t fully sexually mature until they are six years old. Most mating occurs in the winter or rainy season. Gestation lasts about 15 months and usually results in one offspring. Calves walk within a day of being born and stay with their mothers for as long as two years.

Population in Kenya & Beyond

Globally, the population of dromedary camels is estimated at more than 15 miliion, with the largest populations in Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, which has nearly 3 million. A small—but growing—herd lives at Mpala. It is used for milking.


Did you know?

A camel can drink a whopping 26 gallons (100 l) of water in just 10 minutes! Drinking that much water that quickly would kill any other mammal.