The Bactrian camel is most famous for its two large humps on its back rather than the single-humped dromedary camel. A camel's hump does not serve a reservoir for water, contrary to popular belief. Instead, it contains energy-rich fat, which a camel metabolizes for energy when there is little food available. Due to its efficient metabolism, a Bactrian camel can last for months with no water. And when it does drink, it can consume as much as 30 gallons (113 liters) of water in one go.
The Bactrian is a native of the steppes in eastern Asia. In the wild its range is limited to remote parts of the Gobi Desert of Mongolia and the Taklamakan Desert of China. A small number still roam in southwest Kazakhstan in the Mangystau Province, and in India in the Kashmir Valley. Deserts and dry grasslands are their primary natural habitat.
Wild Bactrians are active in the daytime, looking for food, and at night they sleep in an open space. Camels that have been domesticated travel across the desert in caravans. The wild camels are highly migratory, herds traveling huge distances in search of water and food sources. In the autumn, herds of up to 100 animals may gather at the start of the rutting season, typically in the more mountainous areas where there is greater availability of water. At other times, family groups consist of 6 to 30 animals with a dominant male as the leader. Bactrian camels are good swimmers. They have a well-developed sense of sight, and their sense of smell is also extremely good.
Bactrian camels are herbivores and can eat plants that are prickly, dry, salty, and/or bitter, but they like any kind of vegetation. If other food is not available, they may eat bones, other animals' skin, and different kinds of flesh. They may eat sandals, ropes and even tents in more extreme conditions.
Bactrian camels are polygynous animals, which means that one male mates with multiple females. Dominant males will defend groups of females against other males during the breeding season, which occurs in the fall. The males during this time tend to be violent and may spit, bite or try to sit on other males. Gestation lasts for 13 months, with most calves born in March and April. One calf is usually produced but occasionally there are two. Females can give birth every other year. The calf is precocial, with the ability to stand as soon as it is born and to walk within just a few hours. The young calf remains for between three and five years with its mother, until it is sexually mature, at 3-4 years of age for females and 5-6 years old for males.
Bactrian camels are threatened by habitat loss through developments such as gas pipes and very toxic illegal mining. Further threats are competition for precious water and grazing in the desert with livestock and domestic camels, as well as hybridization with domestic camels.
IUCN Red List gives the data for the year 2004 with approximately 600 individuals in China and 350 in Mongolia. Currently Wild Bactrian camels are classified as critically endangered (CR) with decreasing population trend.
The Bactrian camel is believed to have been domesticated in southwestern Turkestan or northeast Afghanistan sometime before 2500 BCE.