Opinion & Columnist

Meet Zim’s camels

Tanaka Mahanya and Tiller Maringa

Camels,  known to be common in Arabian states and Australia, have found their way into Zimbabwean parks.

They have been scarce in Southern Africa due to the belief that they favour desert conditions for survival.

But Lion Park, at the edge of Harare, has proved to be a good home for the beasts, ensuring they are well taken care of.

The two — Boniface (male) and Agnes (female) — have been at the park for almost three years, having arrived in May 2017 from South Africa.


The two, Boniface (male) and Agnes (female) have been at the park for almost three years

Both are eight-years-old.

“Boni” and “Aggy”, as they are mostly called, are of the one humped dromedary type.

The breed has humps where food is stored in the form of fats, enabling them to live for six months without food or water.

A research done by Kenyan camel researcher Maurizio Dioli showed that the beast’s hump can store up to 36kg fats which are used to provide energy needed when food resources are not sufficient.

It is also called the Somali camel having originated in Somalia, where they have been domesticated for more than 400 years.

During a tour of the facility, one of the caretakers, Juwasi Ncube, told a group of visitors that the camels feed on grass, leaves, edible vegetables and sometimes pellets.

Pellet cubes seem to be their favourite as they easily take instructions when one promises to deliver the tablets.


“Once in a while, we feed them pellets, especially when we have visitors as they easily take orders,” Ncube said.

Although camels can survive for up to six months without food and water, the desert beasts at Lion Park are not starved.

In the fenced area they reside in, Aggy and Boni have free and unlimited access to grass, leaves and water.

During the rainy season, they seem to enjoy grass more, as rain helps to make the grass greener.

“Drinking water is stored in the pond which has a capacity of 420 litres and is changed when the water is dirty after about three days,” Ncube said.

“Sometimes they enjoy playing in the pool as a way of cooling themselves and keeping clean,” added Ncube.

Camels consume water at a remarkable rate, they can drink 10 to 20 litres a minute.

This enables them to reserve water for future use.

Lion Park manager, Biggie Madonoro said although camels can live for a long time without water, they always have enough at the park.

Fears about environmental compatibility were not based on fact as the two camels are adapting well.


For the three years they have been at the park, Boniface fell sick once, but did not take long to recover.

“They have blanket- like skin, which prevents direct sunshine and shields them from cold winters.

The skin peels off in summer as a way of producing a much stronger one to prepare them for the winter season”, said Ncube.

At eight years of age, they have no offspring yet, but were once recorded mating last year.

However, science has it that female camels become sexually mature at the age of 5, while males between 3 and 8 years.

Now that the park has camels, pupils from different schools and families frequently visit the recreational area, leaving the parking lot short of space during weekends.

Some of the visitors are disappointed at not being able to take a ride on the beasts as the park does not have saddles yet.

There is hope that the camels will multiply and eventually events themed around their presence are rolled out.

In Arab countries, camels have a special place in society.

Some Arabian countries hold festivals where they promote camel culture and identity.

In Rajasthan, Indian, there is the annual camel fair held by the Department of Tourism, Arts and Culture in honour of the ship of the desert.

The event mainly includes spectacular camel performances like camel dances, races, neck shaking and camel rides.

This is a festival which most camel owners look forward to, showcasing their animals’ talents and capabilities.

The camels are dressed up, paraded, shaved, entered into beauty contests, raced, made to dance, and traded.

A huge carnival is held, with musicians, magicians, dancers, acrobats, snake charmers and carousel rides to entertain the crowd.

Saudi Arabia recently added a new camel festival to its diary, the Crown Prince Camel Festival in Tiff where thousands of camels compete in the hope of winning millions in prize money for special breeds, good looks and speed.

Early inhabitants of the Arabian Desert relied on camels for milk, meat, transport, leather and during battles due to their agility and speed.

The desert beasts are valuable in many countries as shown by high prices in most market places.

In Somalia camel prices are lower because their population is high and go for 60 000 Somaliland Shillings which is approximately US$105.

The cost of one dromedary camel in Australia ranges between $500 and $3 500 Australian dollars, depending on the training and age of the camel.

In Zimbabwe,  camels are also found at the late former President Robert Mugabe’s farm. The former president received the camels as gifts from slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Will Zimbabwe be able to emulate these camel countries?