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Lions and Tigers and CAMELS???

Africa is probably most famous for its animals. In fact, people know more about Africa's animals than anything else about Africa. Animals are found in all of Africa's habitats from the desert to the rainforest

There are two distinct zones of animal life in Africa: the North and Northwestern zone. These include the Sahara where we are and the Ethiopian zone, including all of sub-Saharan Africa. The Ethiopian zone (which includes countries like Kenya, Ethiopia, and Eritrea) is noted for its great variety of distinctive animals and birds. Antelope, deer, zebra, giraffe, buffalo, elephants, and rhinoceroses inhabit the woodland and grassland areas there. More ferocious animals like the lion, cheetah, leopard, hyena, jackal, and mongoose find homes in the vast terrain as well.

Ships of the Desert

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Can you do the camel squat?
The camel each day
Goes twice to his knees
He picks up his load
With the greatest of ease
He walks through the day
With his head held high
And stays dry for that day
Without even a sigh
Ships of the desert
are these great beasts called
join us for a ride,
Come one, come all!
The North and Northwestern zone is characterized by animals such as sheep, goats, horses, and camels. Timbuktu alone, one of the cities in the Sahara Desert, is home to many fascinating animals like desert foxes, hares, gazelles, and small rodents, a lot of which we saw along the way. Still no animal is as popular as the camel.

No amount of research could have prepared us for the actual experience. We'd planned, for a long while now, to visit a Tuareg village while in Mali, and the only way to get there is by camel. Still, when the moment came, Kevin and I could only look at each other and laugh -- we had camels parked outside! Because camels are such an integral part of desert life, many Tuareg men are professional Chamelliers, or camel guides. Our guides were brothers, Ebraheem and Tapala, and we met them at dusk to begin our journey once the sun wasn't so harsh. As planned, they met us at our hotel, with an entourage of camels. What a sight!!!

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This is a piece of cake!
There were four camels waiting, two for Kevin and I and two for our friends Christina and Francisco. The camels were well mannered and sat all together on the ground. I had always imagined riding a camel would be similar to horseback riding, and it was except camels are a lot taller than horses. This is why you have to mount the camel while it's sitting down, otherwise you would need a ladder.

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Add a new mode of transportation to my list, please!
Honestly, I started to get cold feet just before it was time to get on. I wondered if the saddle was secure, or if anyone had ever had any major accidents riding camels. I wondered if I had a CWA (a camel with an attitude), or if my guides could control the camel if it started to get out of hand. All my fears were whisked away in a single motion -- "Whoosh!" The camel was up on all fours! It all happened so fast that I didn't have time to be afraid. You should've seen the look on my face. I was the first one up, then Christina, Cisco, and Kevin. It was all a piece of cake after that.

The Camel

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Feeling like the " king of the world" atop the giant but gentle beast.

Scientific Name: Camelus dromedarius

Habitat: The hot dry climate of the desert in Northern Africa and across Central Asia to Mongolia and Australia.

Diet: Camels will eat almost any vegetation in the desert. The dromedary camel chews food again after swallowing it by bringing the food back up into its mouth. When food is plentiful, the camel will overeat and store the fat in its hump.

Life Span: 17 to 50 years

Reproduction: When the female reaches the age of 5 years she is able to give birth to usually 1 offspring. Her pregnancy lasts for is 370-440 days, that's over one year!

Fact: Dromedary camels in the Sahara Desert can go all winter without taking a drink. In hot weather, a camel that has gone without water for a long time can drink up to 50 gallons at a time.

All that surrounded us was sand, rolling dunes, sand, sand, and more sand. Did you know that about one-third of the earth's land mass is either desert or semi-desert? Deserts are areas of extreme heat and dryness, just as most of us envision them. The Sahara Desert is 65 million years old, and because deserts endure such harsh heat extremes, they are among the most fragile ecosystems on the planet. Deserts receive less than 10 inches of rain a year. Though camels can go for long periods of time without drinking water, they usually find refuge in desert streams and rivers formed where there are grasslands, woodlands and forested uplands called watersheds.

Watersheds are like giant geological sponges, that collect and hold water throughout the year, releasing it slowly into the desert below. At one time these desert streams were an abundant source of water for the plants, for wildlife, and for native peoples as well. However, abuse to the watersheds through overgrazing, timber cutting, mining and other modern activities have dried up many desert rivers. Ebraheem explained that there was a well near their camp, which was the current water source for three other camps in addition to their own. It would probably only last for another month or so, just around the same time the change in seasons occurs. That's when Tuaregs find a new home, or camp, as they call it. After a while we saw a few Tuareg tents in the distance. We figured our ride would be coming to an end soon, but we enjoyed every moment. Being so high off the ground makes you feel like you're flying, especially with the wind through your hair and your arms floating in the air above you. It's so liberating in fact that I could hear Kevin on his camel behind me shouting "I'm the king of the world!"


p.s. - Please e-mail me at


Abeja - In the Shadow of the Dogon Ancestors
Kavitha - Education is a Girl's Best Friend
Kavitha - Part 1: "A Girl Named Fanta"/A Death in Dogon Country
Team - Mosquitoes and Malaria: A Deadly Combination
Making a Difference - Who will Mop up Their Mess? Shell and Chevron Wreak Havoc in Nigeria

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