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Camels are even-toed ungulates within the genus Camelus. The dromedary, one-humped or Arabian camel has a single hump and is well known for its healthy low fat milk, and the Bactrian camel has two humps. They are native to the dry desert areas of western Asia, and central and east Asia, respectively.
The term camel is also used more broadly to describe any of the six camel like creatures in the family Camelidae: the two true camels, and the four South American camelids, the llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuña.
The average life expectancy of a camel is 40 to 50 years. A fully grown adult camel stands 1.85 m (6 ft 1 in) at the shoulder and 2.15 m (7 ft 1 in) at the hump. The hump rises about 30 inches (75 cm) out of its body. Camels can run up to 65 km/h (40 mph) in short bursts and sustain speeds of up to 40 km/h (25 mph).
Fossil evidence indicates that the ancestors of modern camels evolved in North America during the Palaeogene period, and later spread to most parts of Asia. Humans first domesticated camels before 2000 BC. The dromedary and the Bactrian camel are both still used for milk, meat, and as beasts of burden—the dromedary in western Asia and in Africa north of the sub-Saharan savannahs, and the Bactrian camel further to the north and east in central Asia.
Camel meat has been eaten for centuries. It has been recorded by ancient writers as an available dish in ancient Persia at banquets, usually roasted whole. The ancient Roman emperor Heliogabalus enjoyed camel's heel. Camel meat is still eaten in certain regions including Somalia, where it is called Hilib geyl, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Libya, Sudan, Kazakhstan and other arid regions where alternative forms of protein may be limited or where camel meat has had a long cultural history. In the Middle East, camel meat is the rarest and most prized source of pastırma. Not just the meat, but also blood is a consumable item as is the case in northern Kenya, where camel blood is a source of iron, vitamin D, salts and minerals. The camel is also considered a novelty in Australia - for example, a camel lasagne is available in Alice Springs).
Camel milk, until recently, was impossible to make into traditional cheese because rennet was unable to coagulate the milk proteins to allow the collection of curds. Under the commission of the FAO, Professor J.P. Ramet of the École Nationale Supérieure d'Agronomie et des Industries Alimentaires (ENSAIA) was able to produce curdling by the addition of calcium phosphate and vegetable rennet. The cheese produced from this process has low levels of cholesterol and lactose. The sale of camel cheese is limited owing to the low yield of cheese from milk and the uncertainty of pasteurization levels for camel milk which makes adherence to dairy import regulations difficult.
The U.S. Camel Corps was a mid-nineteenth century experiment by the United States Army in using camels as pack animals in the Southwest United States.
While the camels proved to be well-suited to travel through the region, their unpleasant disposition and habit of frightening horses is believed to be responsible for their failure to be adopted as a mode of transportation in the United States.
A small population of introduced camels, dromedaries and Bactrians survived in the Southwest United States until the 1900s. These animals, imported from Turkey, were part of the US Camel Corps experiment and used as draft animals in mines and escaped or were released after the project was terminated. A descendant of one of these was seen by a backpacker in Los Padres National Forest in 1972. Twenty-three Bactrian camels were brought to Canada during the Cariboo Gold Rush.
The Wal-Mart camel is the bone fossil of a prehistoric camel (Camelops sp.) found at a future Wal-Mart store in Mesa, Arizona in 2007. Workers digging a hole for an ornamental citrus tree found the bones of a camel that lived 10,000 years ago. Arizona State geology museum curator Brad Archer calls it an important find and extremely rare. Wal-Mart officials and Greenfield Citrus Nursery owner John Babiarz agreed that the bones will go directly on display in a museum at Arizona State Camels lived in what is now Arizona until about 8,000 years ago. More camel bones were found in Gilbert, Arizona in May 2008.