The timid looking long necked, state animal of Rajasthan, that attracts the interest of tourists like us, are the Camels. They are an important part of the arid and semi-arid desert biome and ecosystem. The ecosystem of different areas support different types of camels. So there are Mewari, Jaisalmeri, Bikaneri, Kachchhi breeds of camel at the National Research Centre on Camels, Bikaner. It was set up on 1984 under ICAR. One can get to taste camel milk ice-cream, take a ride, or look at them-the wild and the tamed, the fair and the dark, the adult and the babies from a close distance. When we visited the research centre, it was a Sunday afternoon, and flocks of tourists were shooting the activities of the camels.
However, there is a alarming fall in camel population of India. The lifespan of a camel is 40 years. It starts breeding at about 4 years but conceives once in 2½ years. There is therefore no way in which their numbers can multiply fast. In India, camels are native to Rajasthan and Gujarat; their physiology is suited to a dry desert climate (hot day, cool night) because they can go for long periods without drinking water and their padded feet are suited to soft desert sands. Camels therefore find it difficult to walk long distances and adjust to humid climatic conditions since they are desert animals. During the monsoon, most of them get contagious diseases such as anthrax and suffer and die, often without the required medical treatment. Also, outside Rajasthan and Gujarat, they do not get their ideal diet of desert shrubs and plants as a result of which they do not keep good health. A census data of Rajasthan indicate there were 7 lakh camels in 1997 . Today the camel population has gone down to mere 2 lakhs (according to Lokhit Pashu Palak Santhan, an NGO). Illegal slaughter has caused this havoc. The price of camels which were a few thousands have now gone up to Rs. 40,000. The traditonal camel keepers Raikas believes they were entrusted with the task of keeping camels by the Lord Shiva. But Lord Shiva has not been kind to them lately and breeding camels has become ever tougher. Grazing lands are disappearing fast, while young Raikas are more interested in urban jobs. All these and more have caused this innocent animal land on the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened species. May I request all the readers of this blog to participate in activities that help towards conservation of this samaritan animal. Hopefully the Rajasthan Bovine Animal Bill 2014 will be enacted soon which prohibits slaughter and temporary migration or exports of camels to prevent slaughter, illegal trade and transportation. Also promotion of camel milk in the state’s food security programme will safeguard the animals future.