With the temperature these days dipping below freezing point in the cold desert region of Ladakh, the appearance of the critically endangered double humped camels (Bactrian camel) has changed with a thick shaggy coat of long hairs emerging all over its body.
To survive in the extremely cold climate, the Bactrian camels have developed special adaption skill of natural growth of thick, shaggy coat that protects them in winters and is shed as the temperature improves.
According to the study conducted by the Bikaner (Rajasthan) based National Research Centre on Camel, long hairs grow on the top of the head, along lower part of the neck, hump and legs of the double humped camel during the winters. The shaggy winter coat is shed extremely rapidly as summers approach.
The hair quality is a very fine quality fiber that is used for preparation of various items viz. shawls, pullovers, sweaters, winter garments, coats and caps.
The village cottage industry also flourishes on the high staple length and quality of wool fiber indicated its usefulness in fiber processing for the village cottage industry.
Its long, wooly coat measuring up to nearly 10 inches varies in colour from dark brown to sandy beige.
Wild Bactrian camels are a critically endangered species and are mostly found in the Nubra valley of the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh. It is present in large numbers in parts of central Asia and western China but its geographic range is steadily decreasing for the past about 30 years.
Count of the double humped camel in Ladakh that was till last few years drifting towards extinction is expected to touch the figure of 200 or more in the national stock census. Population of the species had dropped to only 36 about ten years ago when the camel was struggling for its survival. Thereafter its population gradually increased to 166 and has now grown further.
The increase in its population has come because of economic gains of locals who were using the species as a tourist attraction. Its owners charge a sum of Rs.300 for a 15 minute ride and provide a photo-shoot opportunity to tourists whose footfall has increased in Ladakh. The sand dunes festival at Hunder in July attracts large number of tourists who enjoy the ride on the double humped camels during the two days festival.
The Indian Army has for the first time introduced the double humped camels for patrolling the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China to check intrusion in Ladakh.
The Army is reportedly training the double humped camel to also carry 180 to 220 kgs of load of ammunition, rations and other supplies in the inhospitable terrain. The double humped camel can survive even in the harsh winter when the temperature dips to -40 degrees Celsius in many areas of Ladakh. The mules presently being used for this purpose carry about 40 kgs of load.