15 years dedicated to saving Critically Endangered wild Bactrian camels
The Wild Camel Protection Foundation
A wild camel calf at the Mongolian breeding centre. Photo courtesy of WCPF.
January 2013. Fifteen years ago, John Hare and Kathryn Rae decided it was time to take a major step and establish the Wild Camel Protection Foundation (WCPF) as a UK registered charity. Until 1997 funding for their work in China and Mongolia had been erratic. In order to try and guarantee secure funding for the last herds of the IUCN listed critically endangered wild Bactrian camels in China and Mongolia, the establishment of a charitable environmental Foundation seemed a sensible option.
Fifteen years later, thanks to a loyal membership many of whom having been with the Foundation since its establishment, finance has been raised to accomplish an incredible amount of work. Several supporters donated what they could on an annual basis, funded a Nature Reserve entry station, or ran in fund-raising events, while others generously sponsored a young camel at the Wild Camel Conservation, Breeding and Research Centre in Mongolia. Through these individual efforts, and funding from institutions, trusts and companies, the following has been achieved:
- The establishment in 2002 of one of the largest nature reserves in the world, the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Reserve in Xinjiang Province, China. This was set up in spite of what appeared to be insurmountable odds, working with Chinese scientists turning the heart of the former Chinese nuclear test area of Lop Nur into a National Nature Reserve, protecting not only the wild camel but many other Red Book listed endangered fauna and flora.
- The organisation and hosting of a meeting in 2001 in Beijing between the Chinese and Mongolian vice-Ministers of the Environment and Nature which resulted in a joint Letter of Intent signed by both governments to pledge mutual cooperation for the protection of the wild Bactrian camel.
- The upgrading in 2003 of the Chinese reserve from a Provincial Reserve to a National Reserve with the same status as the Giant Panda Reserve. This ensured that future funding was secure, as it would come from the National government.
- A training course held in Kenya in 2004 with sponsorship from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), for Chinese and Mongolian scientists to establish joint working procedures for the protection of the wild Bactrian camel in both countries.
- The establishment in 2004 of the Hunter Hall Wild Camel Breeding Centre, the first and only breeding centre in the world for wild camels, at Zakhyn Us, in Mongolia with the consent of the Mongolian government. Twelve captive wild camels were taken into a fenced area in the Buffer Zone of the Great Gobi Strictly Protected Area ‘A', the only ecosystem in Mongolia where the wild camels still exist in the wild.
- A five-year agreement with the ZSL to advise the WCPF on the management of the Mongolian captive wild Bactrian camel breeding programme and all related scientific issues.
- Joint funding with the ZSL of a Chinese and Mongolian ZSL EDGE scientist to study the wild Bactrian camel and its habitat food and water resources in both countries.
- On-going genetic testing of wild Bactrian camel samples from China and Mongolia at the Veterinary University of Vienna and in China. The results show a consistent variation from the DNA of the domestic Bactrian camel. This has culminated in 2010 with the announcement that the wild Bactrian camel is a new and separate species henceforth to be known simply as the wild camel.
- An environmental educational awareness-raising campaign which has raised awareness of the plight of the wild Bactrian camel around the world.
- An excellent on-going working relationship with the Chinese Environmental Protection Bureau and the Director of the Lop Nur Wild Camel National Nature Reserve. WCPF has an agreement with the Reserve to act as their international consultant on all matters relating to the wild camel and its unique desert habitat. In Mongolia WCPF works directly with the Ministry of Nature and the Environment and Tourism and the Director of the Great Gobi Special Protected Area "A".
- The establishment of a series of school nature clubs in Mongolia to raise environmental awareness among school children and employment for people local to the breeding centre making knitted products from wild Bactrian camel wool.
Pressure on wild camels
It is thought that there are fewer than 600 Bactrian camels alive in the wild, and the population is declining.
For the wild camel its habitat is equally fragile and endangered. Increasing pressure by man on this desert habitat, through malign influences such as illegal mining, means the future for large mammals in both countries is precarious. WCPF
is committed to funding the Hunter Hall Wild Camel Breeding Centre, further scientific and field research, and participating in the long-term management plan for the conservation and protection of the wild camel a Red Book listed species in both countries. The wild camel is an 'umbrella' or ‘keystone' species. By protecting the wild camel and it fragile desert habitat many other endangered flora and fauna are protected. We are looking forward to the next ten years and the work still required encouraged by the support and recognition WCPF has received internationally from both scientists and conservationists for our efforts to protect the wild camel in its native habitat.
The proclamation of a new and separate species of camel makes the work of the WCPF even more valuable and important. WCPF is the only organization in the world with the sole aim of protecting the critically endangered wild camel from extinction.