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close this book Camel milk. Properties and Products
close this folder 1 Introduction
View the document 1.1 Origin and domestication
View the document 1.2 Present distribution and economic potential
View the document 1.3 Physiological adaptation to the desert environment
View the document 1.4 Traditional husbandry and management

1.2 Present distribution and economic potential

In just a few centuries camels have spread from where they originated into several areas where they found great use as important pack and milk animals. The two-humped bactrian extended its range over broad regions of Asia, in the East to the Northern China, and in the West to Asia Minor and Southern Russia. The dromedary spread chiefly in the wake of the campaigns of conquest of the Islamic Arabs to East and North Africa as well as South West Asia. With few exceptions, camel husbandry is concentrated in areas with short periods of precipitation and long hot dry periods. Bactrians are mainly kept in areas where the annual mean temperatures do not exceed 21°C. Attempts have been made to keep camels in areas outside the regions where they originated. In Spain, Italy and the United States they were used as mounts for the police and army. When the desert areas of Australia were being opened up, camels were used as draught animals. With the development of motorised road transport, the introduced camels were no longer needed and they were left to their own devices. The camels introduced in Europe and United States died out. In Australia on the other hand, where large camel herds were introduced, there still exist some 15000 to 20000 feral camels (Yagil 1982; Wilson 1984).

According to FAO (1989) statistics (Table 1.1) there are about 18 million camels in the world, of which 14 million are found in Africa and 4 million in Asia. Of this estimated world population, 16 million are believed to be one-humped camels and 2 million two-humped. Approximately 11 million dromedaries, representing two thirds of the world's camel population, are in the arid areas of Africa, particularly in North East Africa, i.e. Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya. The majority of camels in this region is kept by pastoralists in subsistence production systems. In Somalia where the ratio of man to camel is one to one, camel milk is one of the main components of the human diet. It is estimated to contribute between 25 and 30 % of the main annual caloric intake of the household members. Camel milk also provides cash from sales, contributing 15-20 % of total household cash income (Abdullahi 1991). Sale of live camels, usually males and unproductive females for slaughter, is very common in East Africa. There is also a growing export trade of slaughter camels to the Arabian Peninsula.

Table 1.1 Estimated came/ populations of Africa and the world (FAO 1989)

 

Country

Camel population (in 1000)

Africa:

 

Algeria

147

Chad

26

Djibouti

405

Egypt

95

Ethiopia

1000

Kenya

780

Libya

75

Mali

198

Mauritania

718

Morocco

20

Niger

350

Nigeria

18

Senegal

6

Somalia

6000

Sudan

3000

Tunisia

205

Upper Volta

5

West Sahara

86

Other regions:

 

Afghanistan

290

China

1040

India

1174

Iraq

232

Mongolia

615

Pakistan

819

Saudi Arabia

108

Former USSR

230

 

From a global perspective, the economic significance of camel production is minimal in comparison with that of other domestic animals (Table 1.2). Nevertheless, in Africa, especially in East Africa, the camel population makes a significant contribution to national economies. However, it is difficult to evaluate this economic contribution as most of the camel products are consumed within the producer community and traded in the informal sector.

Owing to the increasing human population and declining per caput production of food in Africa, there is an urgent need to develop marginal resources, such as arid land, and optimize their utilization through appropriate livestock production systems of which camel production is the most suitable without doubt.

Table 1.2 Numbers of domestic ruminants and camels in the world (FAO 1989)

 

Species

World million head

Whole Africa million head

East Africa million head

Cattle

1264

181

72

Sheep

1173

200

65

Goats

520

167

63

Camels

18.9

14.2

11.5