The Wild Bactrian camel is a critically endangered species of camel living in parts of northern China and southern Mongolia. They have long, narrow slit-like nostrils, a double row of long thick eyelashes, and ears with hairs to provide protection against desert sandstorms. These camels have tough undivided soles with two large toes that spread wide apart and a horny layer which enables them to walk on rough and hot stony or sandy terrain. Their thick and shaggy body hair changes color to light brown or beige during winter. Until recently, wild Bactrian camels were thought to have descended from domesticated Bactrian camels that became feral after being released into the wild. However, it is a separate species that diverged from the Bactrian camel about 1.1 million years ago.
Wild Bactrian camels are limited to three pockets in northwest China and some in southwest Mongolia. They occur in areas of the Taklamakan, Kumtag, and Gobi deserts. Their habitat is in arid plains and hills where water sources are scarce and very little vegetation exists with shrubs as their main food source. These habitats have widely varying temperatures: the summer temperature ranges from 40 to 50 °C (104 to 122 °F) and winter temperature a low of −30 °C (−22 °F).
Wild Bactrian camels are social and generally move in groups of up to 30 individuals, although 6 to 20 is more common depending on the amount of food available. Typically, camels are seen alone are post dispersal young individuals which have just reached reproductive maturity. Wild Bactrian camels are fully migratory and travel over long distances, seeking water in places close to mountains where springs are found, and hill slopes covered in snow provide some moisture in winter. Herds travel with a single adult male in the lead and assemble near water points where larger groups can also be seen. Wild Bactrians are active during the day, looking for food, and at night they sleep in an open space. They are good swimmers and have a well-developed sense of sight; their sense of smell is also extremely good and can detect odors up to 3 km away.
Wild Bactrian camels are omnivores but primarily herbivores and feed on a wide range of vegetation, including salty, dry, thorny, and bitter plants. When other nutrient sources are not available, these camels may feed on carcasses, gnawing on bones, skin, or various different kinds of flesh.
Wild Bactrian camels are polygynous meaning that one male mates with several females. They breed during winter with overlap into the rainy season and during this time dominant males will defend groups of females against other males. Females can give birth every other year and usually produce one calf or occasionally two. Gestation lasts for 13 months. The calf is born precocial, with the ability to stand as soon as it is born and to walk within just a few hours. It will remain with the mother for between 3 and 5 years. Females become reproductively mature at 3-4 years of age while males are ready to breed when they are 5-6 years old.
The main threat to wild Bactrian camels is illegal hunting for their meat. Hunters have been killing the camels by laying land mines in the saltwater springs where the animals drink. Other threats include scarcity of access to water such as oases, attacks by wolves, hybridization with domestic Bactrians, toxic effluent releases from illegal mining, re-designation of wildlife areas as industrial zones, and sharing grazing areas with domestic animals. Due to increasing human populations, wild camels that migrate in search of grazing land may compete for food and water sources with introduced domestic stock and are sometimes shot by farmers.
According to IUCN, the total population size of the wild Bactrian camel in 2004 was 950 individuals. These included approximately 600 individuals in China and 350 in Mongolia. Currently, this species is classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List and its numbers today are decreasing.