By Emily Sexson

The nursery rhyme “Sally the Camel” counts down how many humps Sally has, usually starting from five humps and ending with zero humps. When Sally no longer has any humps, she is no longer a camel, but a horse, of course! While camels and horses may have a few things in common, they are two very distinct types of animals. Mona and KJ, two Bactrian camels at the Lee Richardson Zoo, can attest to that. 

Because Mona and KJ are Bactrian camels, they have two humps. Dromedary camels have one hump, and no camels have more than two! Mona and KJ both happen to be celebrating their birthdays this week! Mona has turned 25, and her son KJ is turning five on the March 19.

These humps are part of why camels have been domesticated. That is, why people sought out to breed and raise camels for their own use. Like horses, camels are used for transport and mobility. Their humps give camels an advantage that horses do not have, a built-in energy supply. A camel’s hump is made up of excess fat (not water), which they can use for nourishment when food and water supplies are scarce. 

In addition to their humps, camels can carry up to 600 pounds on their backs. This means travelers can not only ride the camel but also pack their luggage on the animal as well. Camels can travel 100 miles without stopping for water, but when they do find a water source, they can drink up to 30 gallons in only 13 minutes.

These unique adaptations have given camels the nickname “ships of the desert.” Bactrian camels like Mona and KJ are believed to have been domesticated up to 6,000 years ago in their native habitat of Central Asia. Not only can this species go a long time without water, but they can also survive some of the most extreme weather conditions. Bactrian camels can withstand temperatures as cold as negative 20 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter and over 100 degrees in the summer. 

Their feet are padded and very broad; their hooves are not fully formed and are more like nails since they do not fully cover their toes. Thanks to their specialized hooves, they can easily navigate the shifting sands and rocky deserts of their native habitat.

Other desert adaptations that Bactrian camels have, include the ability to grow a thick fur coat during the winter, which sheds every spring when temperatures rise. They also have two rows of thick eyelashes that shade their eyes from the harsh sun and prevent sand and dirt from getting in. Mona and KJ have all these same features, allowing them to thrive here in the Great American Desert when temperatures rise and fall, or wind speeds pick up. The pair also represents the critically endangered wild Bactrian camel. While domesticated Bactrian camel populations are doing well, their wild counterparts are threatened.

There are fewer than 1,000 individual Bactrian camels in the wild. Their populations are decreasing due to the biggest threat to all wildlife, habitat loss. Bactrian camels are losing their habitat due to residential and commercial development, agriculture, energy production, and mining. While human encroachment is wildlife’s biggest threat, we are also their best chance for a future. 

We can help Bactrian camels and all wildlife threatened by habitat loss by committing to sustainable actions and purchases. An easy way to do this right here in Garden City is to recycle. By recycling your waste, manufacturers can utilize the material they need for their products again, instead of mining in wild places or developing more.

Help us celebrate Mona and KJ’s birthdays this week by visiting them in Wild Asia. You can see their amazing adaptations in person and learn more about this species. Take it a step further and visit the City of Garden City’s recycling center at 125 JC Street, or learn more about how and what you can recycle at Happy birthday Mona and KJ!

Emily Sexson is a communication specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.