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The Camels Life

A female camel carries a single young, called a calf, inside her body for about 13 months before giving birth. The calf's eyes are open at birth, and a thick, woolly coat covers its body. The calf can run when it is only a few hours old, and it calls to its mother with a soft "baa" somewhat like that of a lamb. The young camel and its mother live together for several years unless they are forcibly kept apart.

When a calf is about a year old, its owner begins to teach it to stand and kneel on command. The young camel also learns to carry a saddle or small, light packs. The size and weight of the packs are gradually increased as the camel grows older. A 5-year-old camel can carry a full load.

Camels can go for days or even weeks with little or no food or water. Desert people feed their camels dates, grass, and such grains as wheat and oats. In zoos, the animals eat hay and dry grains--about 3.5 kilograms of each every day. When a camel travels across the desert, food may be hard to find. The animal may have to live on dried leaves, seeds, and whatever desert plants it can find. A camel can eat a thorny twig without hurting its mouth. The lining of the mouth is so tough that the sharp thorns cannot push through the skin. If food is very scarce, a camel will eat anything--bones, fish, meat, leather, and even its owner's tent.

A camel does not chew its food well before swallowing it. The animal's stomach has three sections, one of which stores the poorly chewed food. This food, or cud, is later returned to the mouth in a ball-like glob, and the camel chews it. The chewed food is then swallowed and goes to the other parts of the stomach to be completely digested. Camels, deer, cattle, and other kinds of animals that digest their food in this way are called ruminants.

A camel can go without water for days or even months. The amount of water a camel drinks varies with the time of year and with the weather. Camels need less water in winter when the weather is cool and the plants they eat contain more moisture than in summer. Camels that graze in the Sahara can go all winter without water and may refuse to drink if water is offered to them. But a large, thirsty camel can drink as much as 200 litres a day. This water is not stored in the camel's body but replaces water previously used up.

A camel needs little water each day because it gets some moisture from its food. Also, it keeps most of the water that is in its body. Most animals sweat when hot, and the evaporation of the water from their skin keeps them cool. But camels do not sweat much. Instead, their body temperature rises by as much as 6 Celsius degrees during the heat of the day and then cools down at night. In people, an increase of only one or two degrees is a sign of illness.

On extremely hot days, a camel keeps as cool as possible by resting rather than feeding. It may lie down in a shady place or face the sun so that only a small part of its body receives the sun's rays. A group of camels may fight off heat by pressing against each other, because the body temperatures of the camels may be lower than the air temperature.

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