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Camels Able to Survive on Salt Water and Sandals Likely to Get Conservation Boost

The Fate of 36 Migratory Species, Including the Wild Bactrian Camel, the World's Largest Fish and the Amazonian Manatee, To Be Decided by Over 100 Countries

The Fate of 36 Migratory Species, Including the Wild Bactrian Camel, the World's Largest Fish and the Amazonian Manatee, To Be Decided by Over 100 Countries

Bonn/Nairobi, 18 September, 2002 - A remarkable hairy kneed camel, clinging on in some of the harshest conditions known in the world, is set to get tough new protection under proposals before an international wildlife meeting. The wild bactrian camels, a population of which was discovered in 1999 in a "lost world" of salty sand dunes on the edge of the Tibetan mountains by a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) backed expedition, are estimated to be down to under 1,000 individuals. It makes them rarer than the giant panda.

Threats, which experts fear are pushing the camels to the brink of extinction, include poaching by hunters and illegal gold and oil miners using guns and land-mines, competition with farmers for water at oases, predation by wolves and cross-breeding with domestic camels. Under a proposal, being put to a meeting of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS), which is being held in Bonn, Germany, this week, delegates are to consider giving the camel the strongest possible protection.

Arnulf Mueller-Helmbrecht, Executive Secretary of the CMS which is a UNEP-linked convention, said:" Mongolia is proposing that these camels become listed on Appendix I of the convention. The animals are clearly in need of a substantial conservation effort. If the priority listing is backed by delegates, this could be the trigger needed to not only head off extinction, but stabilize and eventually boost the numbers of this extraordinary creature".

Shafqat Kakahel, the Deputy Executive Director of UNEP who is attending the conference, said: " Currently the camels are confined to three, small, relic populations in China's Taklimakan desert and the deserts around the now arid Lop Nur lake and marshlands. Their other location is in a small part of Mongolia's Gobi desert". "Giving these extraordinary animals, which on-going scientific research indicates may be also a new species distinct from the domesticated one, the highest protection should be a matter of urgency.

The top listing would require Mongolia and China to work more closely to restore camel habitats, crack down on hunting and poaching and develop strategies or "corridors" to allow the Chinese and Mongolian populations to migrate and mix in order to boost breeding and reduce the risks of in-breeding," he said.

John Hare of the Wild Camel Foundation based in Benenden, Kent, United Kingdom, whose expedition discovered one of the Chinese populations in a former nuclear test zone three years ago, will warn delegates on Wednesday (18 September) that the Mongolian population is facing an 84 per cent decline over the next 30 years unless urgent action is taken. "The Mongolian sub-population, which currently numbers around 350 individuals, is known to have declined by 46 per cent since 1985. It is estimated that the annual loss now is running at up to 30 camels, mainly as a result of increased hunting and wolf predation, " he will tell delegates.

Mr Hare whose 1999 expedition was given financial support from the Global Environment Facility will argue that the situation in China, where the population is estimated at around 600 animals, is also grave. "Scientists on the ground advise us that in a new reserve, called the Arjin Lop Nur Nature Sanctuary, up to 20 wild camels are being shot annually by miners and hunters," he said.

Other pressures include proposals to develop a gas pipeline and minerals prospecting. The plan for the wild bactrian camels, which can survive on a diet of salty water- and, in times of desperation on the tents, ropes and sandals of unwary expeditions, is one of 36 proposals covering the listing of endangered animal species under the CMS which will be debated at the six day conference.

Other proposals include one covering the elusive, freshwater, Amazonian manatee, which is one of the largest mammals in South America. It is under threat from large-scale commercial hunting and pollution of its rivers and estuaries from gold mining and oil drilling operations. It is expected that countries that are home to the migratory manatee, including Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil, will agree to greater co-operation in the area of manatee conservation.

Meanwhile the Philippines is expected to lead talks on closer, regional cooperation, to conserve stocks of the Whale Shark, the world's largest fish. The Philippines, along with India, recently shut down their whale shark fishery in order to conserve a species which can grow to be up to 14 metres long and weigh-in at some 15 tonnes. The meat and fins of the Whale Shark are highly prized with a carcass fetching as much as $3,000.

Notes to Editors: Other species for proposed Appendix I and/or Appendix II listing include the Saiga antelope, the Mongolian gazelle, and 19 bird species. Moreover, several Southern Pacific whale species are also proposed for listing including the Antarctic minke whale, the Bryde's whale, fin whale, sei whale, and sperm whale. The Wild Camel Protection Foundation is on Tel: 44 1580 241132

For More Information, and to request articles on some of the key animals concerned, Please Contact: Eric Falt, UNEP Spokesperson/Director of the Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, E-Mail: or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-Mail: In Bonn, Veronika Lenarz, Information Assistant, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS), on Tel: 49 228 815 2409, E-Mail:

UNEP News Release 2002/67

Wednesday 18 Sep 2002
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