A very fine bronze study of a standing twin-humped Bactrian Camel with excellent deep green, black and orange colour and good hand chased surface detail, signed A Barye
The Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is a large, even-toed ungulate native to the steppes of Central Asia. Of the two species of camels, it is by far the rarest. The Bactrian camel has two humps on its back, in contrast to the single-humped dromedary camel. Its population of two million exists mainly in the domesticated form. Some authorities, notably the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), use the binomial name Camelus ferus for the wild Bactrian camel and reserve Camelus bactrianus for the domesticated Bactrian camel. Their name comes from the ancient historical region of Bactria.
Taxonomy of the Bactrian Camel
The domesticated Bactrian camel has served as a pack animal in inner Asia since ancient times. With its tolerance for cold, drought, and high altitudes, it enabled the travel of caravans on the Silk Road. The wild form has dwindled to a population estimated at 800 in October 2002 and has been classified as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its range in the wild is restricted to remote regions of the Gobi and Taklamakan Deserts of Mongolia and China. A small number of wild Bactrian camels still roam the Mangystau Province of south west Kazakhstan and the Kashmir Valley in India. Feral herds of Bactrian camels are found in Australia.
The Bactrian camel shares the genus Camelus with the dromedary (C. dromedarius) and the wild Bactrian camel (C. ferus). The Bactrian camel belongs to the family Camelidae. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (4th century BC) was the first to describe the species of Camelus. He named two species in his History of Animals: the one-humped Arabian camel and the two-humped Bactrian camel. The Bactrian camel was given its current binomial name Camelus bactrianus by Swedish zoologist Carl Linnaeus in his 1758 publication Systema Naturae.
In 2007, Peng Cui (of the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and colleagues carried out a phylogenetic study of the evolutionary relationships between the two tribes of Camelidae: Camelini – consisting of the three Camelus species (the study considered the wild Bactrian camel as a subspecies of the Bactrian camel) – and Lamini – consisting of the alpaca (Vicugna pacos), the guanaco (Lama guanicoe), the llama (L. glama) and the vicuña (V. vicugna). The study revealed that the two tribes had diverged 25 million years ago (early Miocene), notably earlier than what had been previously estimated from North American fossils. Speciation began first in Lamini as the alpaca came into existence 10 million years ago (late Pleistocene). Nearly two million years later, the Bactrian camel and the dromedary emerged as two independent species.
The Bactrian camel and the dromedary often interbreed to produce fertile offspring. Where the ranges of the two species overlap, such as in northern Punjab, Persia and Afghanistan, the phenotypic differences between them tend to decrease as a result of extensive cross breeding between them. The fertility of their hybrid has given rise to speculation that the Bactrian camel and the dromedary should be merged into a single species with two varieties. However, a 1994 analysis of the mitochondrial cytochrome b gene revealed that the species display 10.3% divergence in their sequences.