It’s a boy! And, another boy! Two male Bactrian camels were born at Brookfield Zoo within a month. The most recent calf, who weighs about 95 pounds, was born the morning of March 22 to nearly three-year-old Kristina. The first-time mom was born at Milwaukee Zoo and arrived at Brookfield Zoo in 2006.
Rusty, the older calf was born on February 28 to Zhana, 4. The sire for both calves was Russell, who was euthanized a year ago due to declining health.
Both Rusty and the new unnamed calf along with their mothers and the rest of the camel herd can be seen on exhibit during regular zoo hours.
Zhana gave birth to Rusty, her first offspring, after a 13.4-month gestation. Zhana was born at Tautphaus Park Zoo in Idaho and arrived at Brookfield Zoo on a breeding loan in 2006. It is the second calf for the sire, Russell, 15, who unfortunately was euthanized a year ago due to declining health as a result of a spinal lesion. He had been at Brookfield Zoo since 1992. This calf is a special addition since Russell’s genetic line is not well represented among the Bactrian camels exhibited in North American zoos.
This is the 12th Bactrian camel birth at Brookfield Zoo, where the species has been exhibited since 1937. The first birth occurred in 1939; the last one was in 1990, when Roberta was born.
At birth, a camel calf’s humps are limp, consisting of just skin and hair. As the calf nears about 6 months old, its humps become more defined as they fill with fat. In the wild, when food is scarce, camels can live off that fat for long periods. As the stored fat is used up, the humps become floppy and may lean to one side. When camels have recently eaten, the humps are erect and plump.
Guests will also notice that the calf has a gray coat of baby-soft downy hair, which keeps him warm. As he gets older, a more protective and courser outer coat of guard hairs will grow in. Bactrian camels are native to Mongolia and China. They have many adaptations for life in a harsh desert environment. For instance, camels have heavy eyelashes, their ears are small and hairy, and their nostrils are slit-like and closeable—all which keep out sand and dust. They also have broad feet, keeping them atop the sand when walking. In addition, an elastic layer of connective tissue spreads out their foot pads, preventing them from sinking into the sand. In the summer, they shed their long fur coat to keep cool. It comes off in big clumps, giving them a temporarily ragged appearance. Because of this adaptation, camels can tolerate extreme temperature changes that range from 22°F to 122°F.
They are also great water conservationists. Bactrian camels can drink up to 32 gallons of water in less than 10 minutes. Once they’ve filled up, they can go for months without water because they have special stomach sacs that store the water. In addition, they can create their own water by burning the fat in their humps; the water is a byproduct when the body burns the fat.
There are more than two million domesticated camels in Asia that are used for transportation, as well as for providing milk and hair. In contrast, the wild camel population—about 600 individuals in China and 350 in Mongolia—is endangered. Towns have spread into the once wild areas of the Gobi Desert. With an expanding human population, camels are being pushed out of their natural habitat and losing the waterholes that they depend on for survival. The largest remaining group lives on an abandoned Chinese nuclear testing range in the middle of one of the most inhospitable deserts in the world.