Travel Tips - The Camel

a camel drawing

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Another extract from Tips to travellers - circa 1935. Be it by ship of the desert (camel) or four wheel drive vehicle we sell a fine range of maps suitable for the potential desert traveller.


We cannot deal with the differences between the camels of Central Asia, of Arabia, of North Africa, of India, and of Australia. For full information on breeds, types, management, and diseases refer to manuals of the British and French Armies and to veterinary handbooks. But we must consider briefly the respective qualities of riding and baggage camels; the equipment and saddlery; the load, speed, and range; the care and management of grazing and watering; the merits and defects of travelling with camels in milk. The general account of camel transport is contributed by Mr. Francis Rodd. The quotations from the Geographical Journal which follow will direct the aspiring traveller to the papers in which one may learn more of the possibilities, pleasures, and defects of desert travel by camel, with some indication of the precautions and the qualities required for success.

Camels, if of the right breed, are very good on rock and in mountainous country; they are as agile and as steady as mules. But if they are plain- or sand-bred camels and not used to rock they cut their feet, fall and break their bones. No African or Arabian camels can stand mud. They slip, split their breast bones, and break up. Camels can however stand a lot of cold with impunity if it is dry; a lot of wet weather is bad even if the climate is warm.

A camel's condition is recognized by the firmness, and in some races by the size of the hump, by the fullness of the quarters and the solidness, as opposed to the scragginess, of the neck. The camel can do without water for days but not without food; moreover he is a fastidious feeder. Some but not all, camels eat grain; when they are not used to it and there is no other fodder, a mash or porridge of soaked and pounded grain is a good way of giving it as it can be poured down the animal's throat out of a skin. Dry straw is better than no food; the animal must have something on which to chew the cud. When animals are exhausted by hard marching and the choice comes of an extra day without water or a stop for pasture choose always the latter. In cold weather, and especially when green food is available camels can work, i.e. march loaded, for ten to fourteen days without wanting to drink. In hot weather camels should drink every fourth day for the sake of condition. When the weather or work is very tiring every third day is not too frequent for water unless a long waterless journey is contemplated, when they should be worked up to the maximum, gradually if possible. Before a long crossing between watering points keep camels away from water so that when they are watered before starting they drink until they cannot put another pint inside them.

Camels are delicate. They require constant care. Always take the advice of your camel man about food, water, and conditions. This is a hard rule because, unless the traveller has very reliable men or much personal experience, he is liable to be put upon. Disregard of advice however may lead to the loss of camels or the breakdown of the expedition. It is a difficult problem and bound up with the question of whether camels should be hired or bought by the traveller. If he has experience of camels and desert travel generally I would not hesitate to advise purchase. However bad the price on re sale may be, purchase is nearly always cheaper than hire. On the other hand, unless the traveller has good men with him as well as personal knowledge of camels his beasts may be badly looked after, deteriorate and even die wholesale in conditions where hired camels would survive. Let it be a good rule, where the traveller owns his own camels or any other sort of animal transport, always to attend when the beasts are being watered and to go the rounds frequently to deal with sores, sickness, etc. For primitive veterinary attention, permanganate and corrosive sublimate are the best disinfectants. With plenty of tow or the equivalent, a pair of strong surgical scissors and a surgical knife, wonders can be done. For diseases it is probably best, unless the traveller has some experience or veterinary training, to follow native advice. Even the most apparently curious native remedies have something in them. It is mainly on disinfectants that they are inclined to be weak and unbelieving.

another camel drawing


Of riding saddles there are two sorts, the sort where the rider sits on a hump in a cradle or seat and the sort where a rider sits on a seat on the withers. The former are heavier, softer, and probably easier to ride on; the latter are lighter, more restful, but more difficult at first to sit. The sorts are the subject of much dispute between Europeans and natives. No advice can be given; experience alone can give the traveller judgment. The camel is steered with the feet, sometimes in conjunction with a stick for tapping him on the shoulders, and with a single bridle, either in the form of line attached to a nose ring or nose peg or in the form of a rope attached to head collar or halter. No camel can be properly ridden in boots; where the saddle is on the withers the rider's feet are on the camel's neck and a prehensile toe is desirable to grasp the cords of the neck. When the rider's seat is on the hump his legs are crossed on the shoulders in front of the withers; in either event steering the camel is carried out as in horsemanship by appropriate "aids" applied with legs or feet.

The strength of a camel is in his fore limbs. His quarters are weak. The breast pad on which the sitting camel rests and bears his load is, roughly speaking, under the withers. The camel's load is carried forward. Where there are two girths, of the two baggage load lines the forward ones in each case do the work; the hinder ones are for balance and steadiness.

yes another camel


The best type is probably the one which the local native knows best, can make and can mend. For large expeditions a local factory can be set up and perhaps some improvements effected on the local type in the way of strengthening, ironwork, etc. For ordinary or small expeditions the best native pack saddle is better than the European and nearly always lighter; moreover the native can mend it but cannot do much with the European sorts. But of types of saddle this is no place to advise, since they vary from place to place and are a very provocative subject among travellers. Every race of camel man has a different type of saddle and method of loading.


Native rope is usually pretty bad unless made of certain sorts of date-palm fibre. European rope, plaited not twisted, in ample supply may be a luxury but is also a solace to the traveller and his temper. Nevertheless, it is expensive, not essential, and needs careful watching, since in a large caravan it tends to evaporate. Nearly everywhere the native camel driver, whether hired with his camels or by the traveller to look after the traveller's camels, is supposed to make or provide his own rope wherever material is available, though the owner may have to buy the raw material. Throughout equatorial Africa the Kabba hyphene the baica-palm provides the raw material gratis. In these areas the camel man is supposed to spend his spare time making rope. But the traveller is sure to traverse areas where no rope can be made, for lack of material, and for these areas European rope--even if only a reserve supply--is invaluable since the local native rope wears quickly. A good rope for wells is also invaluable; there is nothing more depressing than hearing the only frayed and knotted native well-rope part near the top and fall into the water with the bucket attached.


In desert travel packages must be of sufficient size. For porters, packages exceeding 50 lb. in weight are inconvenient, tiring and in many countries prohibited: a parcel of 100 lb. or more becomes almost unmanageable. But for camel work the weight of packages should for choice be of about too lb. in weight and of convenient size. A camel's load varies between 250 lb. and 600 lb. for some exceptionally sturdy races. In the absence of reliable data the traveller should not reckon on more than 300 lb. per camel. Nearly all camels can carry more than 300 lb., certainly, but by the time water, a camel driver, and all the spare items, which the traveller has accumulated but forgotten to account for, are loaded, the weights will probably be fully up to the limit. A camel can be overloaded for a few days but not for a few months or even a few weeks on end. The same applies to donkeys, mules, horses, men, yaks, Llamas, and, I expect, elephants. It certainly also applies to motor cars.

A suitable camel load consists of two 100 lb cases with two water skins slung one below each case. A good camel can also carry a driver on top of this load for part of the day. The loads are slung with two rope slings connecting the cases. The forward sling is tight and the forward ends of the cases are carried higher than the hinder ends.

Rope camel nets should be provided for small packages. They are also good for misshapen round packages and bedding.

yet another camel


The question of hobbling, grazing, roping or not roping camels and other transport animals varies so much from place to place and with the marching timetable that no rules can be laid down. The problem has no ideal solution; every compromise depends on actual circumstances. I have always preferred one long march to two stages a day, but then I do not much mind the strong sun of African noonday. Most African travellers seem to prefer the two-stage system, which however means more fatigue for native and camel and, generally speaking, under-nourishment for the camels as well, since they will not eat under the blazing midday sun or immediately after tiring marches.

I prefer the very early start before dawn and a march of up to ten to fourteen hours and then a rest in the late afternoon and night. The camels get in some grazing in the cool evening and usually also a little more for an hour or so before starting. Francis Rodd.

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