The Status of the Camel in the United States of America

Camel Story from North America at the Eve of World Camel Day


Fifteen to twenty importations of camels were made from the early eighteenth through the late-twentieth centuries. In 1856 and 1857, the US government imported seventy-five camels—sixty Arabian, the balance Bactrian or hybrids—from Tunisia, Egypt, and Turkey for military use. In 1858 a private shipment of forty camels arrived in Galveston, Texas, final disposition unknown. From 1859 to 1861, Otto Esche imported fifty to sixty Bactrian camels from Russia.  

Camel and Civil War

The government used camels as pack animals on three expeditions prior to the Civil War. Beale’s 1857 expedition surveyed what is now Interstate 40; the 1859 and 1860 Echols/Hartz expeditions searched for practical border routes across the Chihuahua Desert. During the Civil War, the camels hauled salt and cotton for Confederate Texas.

Post-War and the Camels

Post-war, the camels were auctioned, joining Esche’s camels hauling supplies to mining camps in Nevada and Canada; freighting between Laredo, Texas, and Mexico City; and hauling building materials in Arizona for the railroad that put them out of work, ending up in traveling menageries and shows.

Twentieth-century, commercial importations for zoos and circuses represent the largest numbers. Bactrian camels were imported from Eastern Europe, Moroccan pied camels arrived, but the largest portion were Arabian camels from Australia—as many as ten shipments, averaging one hundred camels each.  

A camel in America

Current Status

More than five thousand camels reside in the US. Some are zoo or circus stock, but most are held on private ranches. Herds range between eight and two hundred camels. While there is a limited market, privately sponsored clinics promote education and veterinary training.

Two to three hundred camels are trained for work: rides at fairs, media, and Christmas productions. Two camel-safari operations exist: in Nevada, safaris last one hour; in Texas, overnight and three-day treks are available. Three companies offer camel races.

Camels breed well in the US and are sold to zoos, circuses, commercial outfits, and hobbyists. A handful of breeders have herds bigger than fifty; hand-rearing is common. Prices are based on species, age, whether mother– or bottle-raised, temperament, training, and color (the lighter, the higher priced). Bactrian is more expensive than Arabians; females are more expensive than males; geldings are more expensive than intact males.

My great friend, Doug Baum, Texas Camel Corps ©TxDot

With limited supply and high prices, a camel-meat industry isn’t viable. Camel meat has been imported for consumption, but public misperception and potential apprehension from the beef industry would inhibit opportunity.

Some breeders and brokers have exported camels for safari-ride operations at tourist resorts abroad. Two to three hundred camels have been exported to Mexico for zoos and ride concessions in the last twenty years.


With a few breeders sustaining the market, future importations seem unlikely, but recent growth in the camel-dairy industry could require imported stock because the current domestic camel population can’t meet the demand for milk.

The camel industry in the US, primarily limited to amusement, has shown some growth, but the market will likely remain a hobbyist endeavor, maintaining current levels.

Further Reading: This story is hereby released on the occasion of world camel day. The story is written by Doug Baum, who is a camel lover and great friend of mine. To know about world camel day and its history, please go to the link.

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