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Originally published in Creation 19(4):26-29, September 1997
It is a dry, hot, day in the desert. There is no water in sight. The wind is thick with sand, and the dunes continually shift underfoot. These conditions prove no problem for the camel.
This unique creature, referred to throughout history as ‘stupid’, ‘recalcitrant’, ‘obnoxious’, ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘vicious’, has played a vital role in the life of mankind because of its ability to cope with the harsh conditions of the desert.
This tolerance is made possible through a number of incredibly specific features possessed by the camel. Extra-long lashes protect its eyes from airborne sand; sensitive muscles in the nostrils close enough to protect its lungs; wide pads on its feet make walking on sand easier; and a thick coat of hair protects the beast from both the midday sun and cold desert night temperatures.
However, while these features are fascinating, it is the camel’s ability to survive for long periods without water (up to several weeks if leafy plants are available), and its ‘hump’ for which it is best known. Arabian camels usually have a single hump, while Bactrian camels from central Asia have two.
It was once assumed the camel stored water in its hump. However, the hump, composed of connective tissue overlying the backbone, is where the camel stores fat.1
A camel may store up to 45 kilograms (100 pounds) in the hump or humps, drawing on this stored food when feed is scarce during a journey.2
If forced to go without water, the camel uses three main mechanisms to survive:
Firstly, by concentrating its urine more, it excretes less water in it.
Secondly, the camel has a large range of body temperature, and does not begin to sweat freely until it reaches 41°C (105°F), at which temperature a person would be very sick. While our internal temperature remains constant (in the absence of fever) at around 37°C (98.6°F), the camel can ‘cool off’ overnight. It starts the day with a body temperature of only 34°C (93°F), and so it takes till nearly midday to heat up to 41°C, at which it starts to sweat. By this time, the cooling processes of other mammals, though efficient, would have already caused large losses of water.
Thirdly, when most mammals are forced to go without water, their blood becomes thicker as a result of moisture loss (which becomes fatal if this moisture is not replaced). But water lost by the camel is replaced by water drawn from other body tissues.3 This lost water, which can be up to a quarter of its body weight, can be rapidly replaced. Camels can drink more than 95 litres (25 U.S. gallons) of water in 10 minutes4 which rapidly restores their dehydrated tissues.
In Leviticus 11:4, God forbids the ancient Israelites to eat the camel, because although it chews the cud, it does not have a divided or split hoof.
Some atheistic sceptics, sadly often aided by some ‘men of the cloth’, have claimed that this is an error in the Bible.
But as always, the written Word of the all-knowing God is right, and the critics are wrong. In the verse before (Leviticus 11:3) it is clear that a cud-chewing animal could only be eaten if it ‘parteth the hoof, and is clovenfooted’. The NIV translates it as one ‘that has a split hoof completely divided’. Camels have an elastic pad at the bottom of their hoof, which helps prevent it from sinking into the sand. This pad means the hoof is not in fact fully divided. This straightforward distinction between the camel’s hoof and that of the cud-chewing animals they would be permitted to eat was easily obvious to the Israelites on simple visual inspection.
Because of the camel’s ability to cope with the harsh conditions of the desert, the large beast has been used throughout history as a pack and draft animal by man, most notably by the Bedouin. Many think that the camel is referred to as the ‘ship of the desert’ because of the animal’s ability to carry goods across the desert ‘sea’. However, others suggest that the term relates to the camel’s swaying gait.
Camels are classified in the family Camelidae, along with the South American animals called llamas and alpacas, so they are all called ‘camelids’, and may be the descendants of one created kind. However, the camel is the only member of its family to have the unique hump and water conservation processes.
Interestingly enough, although camels are herbivores, males have sharp front teeth. If scientists had discovered the skull of a camel without knowing what living ones were like, they might well have reconstructed it as a vicious meat-eater, based on its jaws and teeth.
Evolutionists claim the camel evolved over millions of years in North America, where many large and small camel fossils have been found.
Camels, llamas, alpacas, vicunas and guanacos are believed to be the only survivors of the numerous camelid species found in the fossil record. However, the fossil record does not show how camelids evolved from non-camelids.
Camelops (an extinct genus of large camels) is presented in the Encyclopaedia Britannica5 as an ancestor of the modern camel. Camelops supposedly lived between 3.5 million to 10,000 years ago, yet it is described as a ‘true camel’, resembling the slightly smaller Arabian camel of today. So, according to evolutionists, even though they claim Camelops lived 3.5 million years ago, it is still recognizable as a camel—not a different animal evolving towards becoming a camel.
The camel and its specialized equipment highlight the incredible design features which evolutionists must explain as the result of random mutations selected by the environment. The camel today is perfectly adapted to its unique desert environment, and it is hard to see how all the features it requires—long eyelashes, thick hair, wide padded feet, fat storage in the hump and sophisticated body temperature mechanisms—could have come by a gradual evolutionary process.
With the second largest expanse of arid and semi-arid land in the world, it is no surprise that Australia has a thriving feral camel population.
The camel, while not native to Australia, was originally imported in the mid-19th century from British India to help with inland exploration (along with ‘Afghan’ cameleers). The first camel on Australian soil was a dromedary (a variety of the single-humped Arabian camel specially bred for riding) imported to South Australia from India in 1840. Camels soon became a vital part of early Australian life because of their far greater ability to traverse the harsh Australian deserts than horses and oxen could.
These hardy animals were used for continuing inland exploration, and as pack and draft animals in the construction of the transcontinental railway (Port Augusta to Kalgoorlie) and overland telegraph (Adelaide to Darwin). They hauled mail coaches, carted water, carted construction loads, and carried bales of wool from farms to ports.
Police officers on patrol also used camels, and by 1920 there were as many as 20,000 domesticated camels in Australia.6 Within a decade, however, the need for the animals began to decline as motorised machinery became available. By the 1930s, a greatly dwindled number of camels began to be turned out into the wild to fend for themselves.
Not surprisingly, these camels found life in the Australian outback favourable, and feral populations quickly increased.
Today it is believed there are again 20,000 camels in Australia—this time mainly living in the wild in the Northern Territory, northern South Australia and eastern Western Australia.7
Camel breeders from the Middle East now import camels from Australia to breed with their own, as the Australian animals do not have the diseases of camels from other parts of the world. Australian camels are also considered to be fit and strong, and therefore good breeding stock.8 This breeding supremacy seems to have been obvious to early settlers, who also considered locally bred camels to be better than those imported from India.9
The camel is obviously designed to withstand very harsh conditions. The issue of how and why design features arose suited for a fallen world is discussed in The Answers Book. However, there is another issue, namely that many creationists believe that there were no deserts before the Flood, so what were camels doing at this time?
However, we cannot be sure that such speculation about the pre-Flood environment is correct. In any case, even if there were no deserts, design features can be pre-adapted to conditions which God (who foreknows all things) knew would arise. Camels can, of course, live quite happily in lush environments.
That does not mean that camels as such would have necessarily been present in the pre-Flood world, only that the camel kind which came off the Ark must have contained sufficient variety for such (pre-existing, created) information to come to the fore by way of natural selection. As the Sahara, for instance, dried out slowly after the Flood (it is generally acknowledged that for a while, there were lush forests growing there), the camelids which had more of the genetic information for any of these features would be more likely to survive. The maximum number of genes for any of these features would become concentrated in one line, but this would be at the expense of other information. Since this is not adding information, but is actually culling information from the gene pool, it is not an evolutionary process.
Thus, camels, llamas and alpacas (along with several extinct species) may each be part of the same created kind. Each species now carries less information in total than the original camelid population after the Flood.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.