Camels are vitally important and are used for transport, meat, milk, wool and leather. Camels made it possible to establish trade routes across the Sahara desert, linking West Africa to North Africa. Camels are held in the highest esteem in Somalia and Somaliland where about a quarter of the entire camel population in the world today are thought to reside. Somalis have 46 different words for the camel.
Camels as Transport
It's the camel's ability to withstand extreme temperatures that makes them so valuable in arid and hot conditions during the day, and cold temperatures at night. Camels are generally used as pack animals and not so much as a free ride. Camels are still used to transport massive blocks of salt from the desert in Mali (Timbuktu) and Djibouti's Lake Assal.
Camels as Food
Camel meat, milk (and sometimes blood), are important to many African diets. Camel's milk is very rich in fat and protein. It's apparently difficult to make cheese from it, but camel yogurt is common and you can even buy camel milk chocolate. Camel milk is the closest you can get to a human mother's milk, with 10 times more iron and three times more vitamin C than cow's milk. It is antibacterial and low in lactose (Source: Huffington Post). No wonder Chad's capital has plenty of camel milk bars and herdswomen from Ethiopia and Somalia think nothing of riding a train for 12 hours to sell it in Djibouti. Unfortunately it requires a yoga master to milk a camel.
Camel meat can be tough and taste a little strong, but raw camel liver and camel stews are popular. I've only eaten meat from a freshly slaughtered baby camel, roasted at a roadside stand in Tunisia - delicious.
Camel leather is used to make shoes, saddles, bags and belts, but unless it's well treated, it has quite a pungent smell.
Fun Camel Facts
- Camels have double rows of long eyelashes to keep the sand out
- Camels can run at speeds of up to 65 km/h (40 mph)
- Camels do not store water in their humps, their humps are actually fat
- Camels only start to sweat at temperatures above 106 degrees.
- Camel urine is sometimes drunk for medicinal purposes.
- The camel is the only animal to have replaced the wheel (in North Africa)
- The name "camel" comes from Arabic ǧml, meaning "beauty"
- More fun camel facts...