AramcoWorld at 75

AramcoWorld at 75: Camels and their magnificent migration

Where you find the ships of the desert, you’ll also find a treasure chest of stories.

AramcoWorld at 75: Camels and their magnificent migration

The first time I met a camel was in the open desert. 

I was taken to visit a grazing herd amid the sandy reaches between Riyadh and Hail, Saudi Arabia. I kept a bit of distance, and an inquisitive camel (a female, I was told) approached at an ambling, padding lope. 

As she drew near, I fixed on the graceful arch of her light-tan neck, and then there was her head in front of me, sizing me up with features that could, if one were not tactful, provoke a comic response: the big, deep-brown eyes; the tiny, vertical ears; the oversized flapped nostrils; the upper split lip and droopy lower lip. 

I had barely noticed the hump, or the legs, which can seem disproportionately long and spindly, a bit like a giraffe’s. 

(EDITOR’S NOTE): As we celebrate the 75th anniversary of AramcoWorld this year, we look back at some of the memorable stories in the magazine. This is a shortened and edited version of an article written by Peter Harrigan that appeared in November / December 2018.

But I gave the camel her credit: she was both curious and confident. Her eyes were like a horse’s, but cast downward and, with three eyelids each and long, even tentacle-like eyelashes that shield against sun and sand, fascinating just to watch. 

Every once in a while, her third, innermost eyelid would nick sideways like a windscreen wiper. This was the beginning of what has become a long appreciation of the camel’s adaptive wonders.

On another desert trip, I learned something about camel milk. It was Spring, led by two Saudi camel enthusiasts. We drove off-road — seemingly aimlessly, for three days, over and around sand dunes — in search of camel herds. 

The Bedouin owners invariably welcomed us. We admired newborns and talked rains and grazing. We were served fresh camel milk, warm and foamy, in gourds and bowls. Each tasting yielded a distinct bouquet. 

Camel milk, like honey, our hosts explained, has what the French call terroir: the aromatic compounds in the wild plants the camels graze upon vary from area to area, and they are fat-soluble, which means they influence the flavor of the milk.

I also beheld the affinity between herder and camel as being truly both acute and individual. I once tested this by asking a herder who owned 53 camels to pick out the camel that left a single print in the sand. 

To me it looked like any of thousands. He scrutinized it and walked toward a camel that to me appeared otherwise indistinct — except for the tiny clip I had hidden on her when she made the print. 

“This rub,” he said, using the word for a six-year-old she-camel, “I call her Rima [gazelle-like]. Of course, that footprint is hers. I love my camels and, like my family, I know every one of them.” 

As Bedouin have done as long as stories have been told, he had a name for every one of the females, each based on attributes real, fanciful, or in between. 

For the full article, see Camels: The Magnificent Migration - AramcoWorld at

Caption for top photo: “Be like a camel — carrying sweets but dining on thorns,” says a proverb from India evoking the grit of camels that made Silk Road trade possible across the vast barren deserts, steppes and mountains of Asia. (YUAN LEI / COURTESY JOHN HARE)


You are currently using an older browser. Please note that using a more modern browser such as Microsoft Edge might improve the user experience. Download Microsoft Edge