Detroit Zoo celebrates birth of male Bactrian camel

Calf can be seen in habitat across from Horace H. Rackham Memorial Fountain

(Jennie Miller, Detroit Zoo)

ROYAL OAK, Mich. The Detroit Zoo is celebrating the birth of a male Bactrian camel born May 18, to 6-year-old mother Suren and 6-year-old father Rusty. The calf can be seen in the camel habitat across from the Horace H. Rackham Memorial Fountain.

"Suren is an attentive and experienced mother and she is keeping a close eye on her gangly little calf," said Elizabeth Arbaugh, Detroit Zoological Society Curator of Mammals.

Camels are born after a gestation period of 12 to 14 months, and a newborn calf is able to stand and walk alongside its mother in as little as 30 minutes. The calf weighed 126 pounds at birth and currently stands about 3 feet tall on long, slender legs. His coat is soft and gray but will eventually grow thick and coarse as it changes to a sandy brown. A camel's humps are limp at birth, consisting mostly of skin and hair. When the calf reaches about 6 months old, the humps will become more defined as they fill with fat.


While the Detroit Zoo's Bactrian camels are domestic, wild Bactrian camels are critically endangered, numbering fewer than a thousand in Central and East Asia. "On many days, there are more visitors at the Zoo than there are wild Bactrian camels in the world," said Arbaugh.

The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) stands about 7 feet tall at the humps and weighs up to 1,600 pounds when it reaches maturity at around age 4. The species has many physical adaptations for life in a harsh desert environment. Its two-toed large feet allow it to walk across desert sand without sinking, and two rows of long, thick eyelashes and narrow, slit-like nostrils can be quickly closed to keep the sand out.

With the ability to survive in temperatures ranging from minus 20 degrees to 122 degrees Fahrenheit, Bactrian camels are well-suited to Michigan's climate. They grow thick winter coats to withstand cold temperatures, and in the summer their coats shed away in large clumps, giving them a ragged, unkempt appearance.

Contrary to popular belief, camels store fat – not water – in their humps, providing energy when food is limited. The Bactrian camel has two humps, compared to the dromedary camel, which has one. The easiest way to remember this camel trivia is to turn the first letter of the camel's name on its side. "B" for Bactrian has a double hump and "D" for dromedary has a single hump.