The Bactrian camels, the inhabitants of isolated regions of the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts of Mongolia and western China, are one of the most adaptable creatures on the planet as their habitats have widely varying temperatures, varying from 104–122 °F (40–50 °C) in the summer to a low of −22 °F (−30 °C) during the winter. In contrast to the single-humped dromedary camels they have two humps on its back, and today its population of two million exists mainly in the domesticated form. Bactrian camels, whether domesticated or not, are altogether a separate species from the Wild Bactrian camels, which are the only truly wild species of camel in the world.
With shoulder height from 5`9 to 7`5 feet (180 to 230 cm), head-and-body length of 7`38–11`48 feet (225–350 cm) and the tail length of 14–22 inches (35–55 cm), the Bactrian camel is the largest mammal and is the largest living camel. The weight of an adult camel can range from 300-900 kg, with males often being much larger and heavier than females. Its long, woolly coat is typically dark brown or dirty grey, with a mane like thick and long hair on neck and throat, measuring up to 10 inches. However, with the advent of summer, the Bactrian camels shed their shaggy winter coats rapidly, due to the drastic seasonal temperature changes in the desert and with huge sections peeling off at once, they appear as if sloppily shorn.
The Bactrian camels have a double row of long eyelashes and sealable nostrils to block sand and dust during the frequent sandstorms. The two humps on the back are composed of fat which becomes plump and erect when well-fed but shrinks and leans to the side as resources decline. Their faces are somewhat triangular, ears are lined with hair, with a split upper lip. While their feet are tough, the two broad toes on their feet with undivided soles help them to spread widely as an adaptation to walking on sand. They have minimal sweat glands and can tolerate an internal temperature increase of 6 degrees Celsius before perspiring, which helps them to prevent loss of water.
The Bactrian camels have the remarkable ability to go without water for months together, but they may drink up to 57 litres at once. They belong to a fairly small group of animals that regularly eat snow to provide their water needs, and ice can be the only forms of water during winter. They sleep in the open at night and foraging for food during the day. They are primarily herbivorous and with their tough mouths, they can eat dried plants, prickly, salty, even bitter and any kind of vegetation. When nothing is available, they may even feed on the carcasses, gnawing on bones, skin or any other material they find, including rope, sandals, and even tents.
Usually, the Bactrian camels become sexually mature at the age of three, but it varies. They ovulate, only when stimulated by mating. If a female does not have the opportunity to mate, her ovarian follicles degenerate. Their oestrous cycle is about 13-40 days, and receptivity usually lasts between three and four days. The breeding season takes place in March and April. They are polygynous, where the dominant male will mate with any of the females in the herd. During the mating time the males often become quite violent and tend to fight, bite, spit, and snort, even attempt to sit on other male camels to intimidate and scare away the intruding males.
The female can give birth to a new calf every other year. After the gestation period of around 13 months, usually one and occasionally two calves are born. The newborn calves are fairly large, weighing about 36 kg, and can stand and run shortly after birth. They are nursed for about 1.5 years but stay with the mother for three to five years until they reach sexual maturity. Wild camels are sometimes used for breeding with the domesticated or feral camels. The life span of a domestic Bactrian camel is around 45 to 50 years.