Camel mothers expend a lot of energy and time on their calves, usually only having one calf every two years. Baby camels (calves) need to stay in their mother’s womb for 13 to 15 months before they are born. This is true for either dromedaries or Bactrian camels, although the latter tend to lean more to the 15 months end of the scale.
Why do camels need such a long gestation period? Because camels are a prey species and do not have time to hang around if a predator is near, and the smell of a birth will always alert even the laziest of predators. A calf has to be developed enough to get up and run within twenty minutes of being born or risk being dinner. A lone camel and a newborn calf are also vulnerable to predators. They need to get back to the safety of the herd as soon as possible.
The gestation period is a critical time in the development of the camel calf. If the weather has been harsh and feed has been hard for the mother to find, then the calf will have a low birth weight and may have developmental problems which can result in death a couple of days after birth. Inbreeding can cause the same effects, even if the female camel is well fed.
But if the mother has access to abundant feed, and was not closely related to the male camel, then the calf can be expected to weigh a whooping 77 pounds (35 kilograms). It’s essential that the calf get a good drink of mother’s first milk (colustrum) because it contains some antibodies, else the calf could die.
Is She Pregnant?
Domestic camel females or cows can be checked by a veterinarian for pregnancy at three months after the last breeding. Depending on the camel, she may or may not begin showing, but her appetite should have increased. She also will be far more reluctant to lie down (or kush) than usual. She may also drive away any male camels trying to flirt with her. The vet needs to do a rectal palpitation and blood tests in order to determine whether the pregnancy has taken.
When a camel cow is ready to calve, she wants to stay away from the other members of the herd. Even domesticated camels try to leave their pens. This is a sign that the calf is on his or her way. If the female camel lets you, you can check to see if her cervix is dilated. Birth is swift in a camel, usually taking about a half hour. But it takes nearly an hour after the birth for the female to expel the placenta (afterbirth).
FAO Corporate Document Repository. “Reproduction.” http://www.fao.org/docrep/003/x6528e/X6528E05.htm
San Diego Zoo. “Mammals: Camel.” http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-camel.html Ultimate Ungulate.com. “Dromedary, Arabian Camel.” http://www.ultimateungulate.com/artiodactyla/camelus_dromedarius.html