Rationale for the breeding of large camelids in France and in Europe!
Together for a better future
with our animals
Presented by the FFC and written by
Part of the general public wonders about the interest and the conditions of breeding large camelids in France and more widely in Europe. This document aims to answer these legitimate questions based on knowledge of the biology and physiology of these species, as well as on the experience of camel farmers established in our country.
Camel or dromedary?
First of all, it should be remembered that there are two species of “large camelids” which differ on their geographical origin: (i) the camel with a hump, commonly called dromedary, originating in the Middle East and which occupies the regions arid hot from Africa and Asia to India; (ii) the two-humped camel, which should be called his real name Bactria, originally from Central Asia and therefore living in Asia, in the arid regions marked by very harsh winters from the Caspian Sea to China .
Note that there are also hybrids, crossing of these two species which exist mainly in Kazakhstan where the two species mix. Unlike the hybrid of horse and donkey (mule), camel hybrids are fertile.
The distinction between dromedary and camel therefore does not make sense, since dromedary and Bactrian are both "camels" (genus Camelus).
Camels are not suitable for our climates in France: True or false?
TRUE AND FALSE at the same time
It is true that camels originally lived in deserts. What characterizes their natural environment are: (i) a high thermal amplitude during the day (hot day, cold night sometimes freezing) or seasonal, especially for Bactria (+ 45 ° C in summer, up to -30 or even -40 ° C in winter), (ii) the scarcity of food resources, which forces them to travel long distances to feed themselves (up to 40 km per day) and to spend a lot of energy on their trips, (iii) the scarcity of water, which forces them to do without drinking for several days or even weeks depending on the quality of the fodder, (iv) a soil more or less aggressive for the feet, ie sand (ergs ) which does not moderate the thermal amplitudes (burning during the day, freezing at night), either pebbles (regs) traumatizing for an animal without a hoof, (v) a testing sanitary environment marked by two major parasitic diseases which affect more than 30 % of animals on average (and up to 100%!), the trypanosome, p arasite of the blood close to the sleeping sickness in the man, and the scabies, parasite of the skin. Added to this is the diarrhea of chamelons which leads to a mortality rate of up to 20% of young people born during the year.
So yes, camels are adapted to survive in such conditions, where most other species would not survive. However, the conditions in France and in Europe being generally much more favorable, the camels adapt perfectly. Their longevity is also higher there, and the health pressure much lower. In addition, in the absence of a specialized slaughterhouse, camels in France live their entire lives.
Camels fear the cold: True or false?
Camels are characterized by a very wide range of thermal comfort. The term “thermal comfort range” means the range of temperatures for which the animal does not fight against the cold or the heat. In humans, it is between 18 and 25 ° C. In dromedaries, it is much wider, between 5 and 35 ° C depending on the type of animal. In Bactria, it is even wider because of their coat. This ability is linked to the natural physiological possibility of camels to modulate their internal temperature according to the external temperature: their internal temperature can drop to 34 ° C in case of intense cold and rise to 40 ° C during heatwaves. In Central Asia, dromedaries and Bactrians adapt very well to snow and very cold weather. They develop a coat at the beginning of winter which falls by itself in spring. Studies on cortisol (stress hormone) have also shown that the level of cortisol increases much more in the blood of camels in the event of a heat wave than in extreme cold.
In very cold weather, camels give off heat by using the fat from their hump whose metabolism produces what is called extra heat. This is why in anticipation of winter, the animal must make its "fat stock" and fill its hump. It is therefore important to bring a good diet, rich in energy, during the fall.
Camels fear humidity: True or false?
The humidity is uncomfortable for them. Camels don't like rain. This is why farmers in Europe must provide shelter in case of wet weather. However, they are not afraid of water: you should know that camels swim very well (in the Canary Islands, they even cross inlets), and that there are in many places camels by the sea. Kazakhstan, they gladly take mud baths!
Food in France cannot suit them: True or false?
On the contrary, forages in France or in Europe are on average richer and more appetitive than desert vegetation, which precisely facilitates the storage of energy in the hump. What is important is to bring coarse elements into the food ration to avoid excess fat (camels can also be "obese"!). The camel is therefore satisfied with a good hay and straw. They are not demanding and are very happy with fallow land overgrown with brambles and shrubs that other animals abandon.
Camels bred outside their country of origin are at risk of catching many diseases: True or false?
Most of the diseases to which camels are susceptible in deserts do not exist in France or are well controlled. For example, the trypanosome, very frequent in the countries of origin, is not present in France and even if it could have been introduced by imported animals, the risk of dissemination is low because the biting insects responsible for their transmission are not present. Above all, unlike the countries of origin, we have in France and Europe a network of veterinarians and easy access to good veterinary drugs which allow good health protection. The main challenge is to properly inform veterinarians about the risks of disease in a context where infectious and parasitic pathologies are easily controllable, but where “metabolic” diseases (linked to too rich a diet for example) are poorly understood .
Camels are not made to run: True or false?
Racing is second nature, especially in the dromedary. Besides, the term “dromedary” finds its root in the Greek δσομος (“dromos”) which means to run, term which one finds in racetrack and camelodrome…. It is one of those species or breeds (like horses or dogs) that run naturally and over longer distances in general than horses. This is probably the first use that man made of it during domestication about 5000 years ago.
Camels suffer when they carry loads: True or false?
Unless of course, the burden imposed on them exceeds their capabilities. But be aware that a camel weighing 400 to 700 kg depending on body size can easily carry 150 to 300 kg on the back. The most important is the quality of the pack (for carrying the goods) or the saddle (to carry the men) in order to avoid unnecessary injuries. Breeders in Europe take special care to use equipment suitable for this, non-traumatic for animals. You should know that in many countries of traditional desert breeding, harness wounds are very common unlike animals bred in France.
Regarding the weight, camels have in their feet two balls of connective tissue of remarkable flexibility, unique in the animal world. These connective balls ensure an expansion of the foot to match the irregularities of a terrain. They also act as shock absorbers, so that an anatomist could say a few years ago that the camel was more modern than the cow because if this one still walked in hoof, this one had sneakers at its feet. This device allows our animal to carry heavy loads without hurting its joints.
Forcing the camel to squat on hard surfaces such as tar is mistreatment: True or false?
The camel has a sternal pad and calluses on the elbows and knees, that is to say keratinized surfaces (a kind of horn) very hard and very resistant which avoid abrasion of the parts of the skin on contact. with the ground. The sternal cushion allows in addition to raise the abdomen by limiting the contact of the vital organs with the too cold or too hot grounds. The squatting position (called "barrack") is a natural position in animals and calluses are present from birth.
Camels often have hind legs soiled with urine and tears in their eyes, a sign of their mistreatment: True or false?
Legs wet with urine are an adaptation to heat. By evaporating, the water contained in the urine cools the femoral veins which thus bring to the heart refreshed blood helping to decrease the internal temperature. This allows the extra heat produced by the animal to be removed at the same time as a fogger would. Tears are also a function of adaptation to dryness by moistening the surface of the eyeball. In addition, they also play a protective role against infections. Indeed, it has been shown that camel tears contain a significant amount of lactoferrin, a protein with powerful antibacterial properties, which explains why the camel, unlike cattle, rarely has conjunctivitis.
Camels are not used to the presence of a crowd: True or false?
Camels are animals that enjoy the company of men since they are used to crossing them from birth. Camels have much more interaction with humans than other bred species, with the possible exception of horses. Well-tamed camels are affectionate animals that seek contact with humans. The more interactions the camel has, the less stress it experiences. Research has shown, for example, that handling animals (for example getting on a truck or entering a restraint corridor creates less stress as animals are used to contact with humans.