The Desert-Dwelling Dromedaries of Morocco
The word Morocco often conjures up visions of stately camels silhouetted against copper-colored sand dunes, or an awe-inspiring sunset, as they make their way through the spectacular Sahara. Indeed, camel-trekking is a popular way of exploring this exotic North African country and camels play an important role in tourism, as well as in the everyday lives of many rural Moroccans. Morocco’s camels are one-humped dromedaries (Camelus dromedarius) which are slightly smaller than the two-humped Bactrian camel found in Central Asia. As they are no longer found in the wild in Morocco, any camels visitors may see while exploring the country are either domesticated or semi-domesticated.
Dromedary camels are valuable to their owners as they are perfectly adapted to the arid and exposed conditions of the Sahara and are able to carry heavy loads where no manmade vehicle can go. It is a common misconception that the camel’s hump is used for storing water. This distinctive feature is, in fact, made of fatty deposits and fibrous tissue which assists in insulating the animal against the desert heat. Their coats are also designed to reflect sunlight, helping them to remain cool.
Interestingly, the red blood cells of camels are oval-shaped, as opposed to being round as is the case with all other mammals. This unique shape allows their blood to keep circulating even when they become dehydrated, enabling them to go for extended periods without drinking water. Their specialized kidneys also allow them to tolerate dehydration, but when they do have access to water, they may drink up to 150 liters of this life-sustaining fluid at a time. They are able to derive moisture from green foliage, but are adapted to eat rough foliage and thorny twigs without injury. Another feature of camels allowing them to tolerate arid conditions is the shape of their nostrils which retain water vapor and return it to the body. They are also able to close their nostrils to keep wind-driven sand out, while their exceptionally long eyelashes help to protect their eyes in a sandstorm.
Traveling by camel in the remote areas of Morocco, taking time to enjoy the culture and hospitality offered in villages along the way, can be an unforgettable experience, made even more special by the fact that the animal you’re traveling on is perfectly adapted to the environment.