Bactrian Camel and Alpaca

Meet the Alaska Zoo's two resident species of the Camelid family, the Bactrian camel and alpaca. Back to animal directory.

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Bactrian camel

LIFE SPAN:  30 years in captivity.

RANGE: Native to cold, high mountains of Central Asia. Often confused with Dromedary camels (1 hump) that live in hot, low altitude deserts.

SIZE: Weigh up to 1,800 pounds and reach up to 7 feet tall.

PHYSICAL FEATURES: Two humps, canine teeth, flaps on nostrils to stop blowing sand and large feet for walking on sand or snow. They look shaggy in spring as they shed their thick winter coat. They are modified ruminants who chew their cud, however they have a three-chambered stomach instead of the four-chambered cattle stomach.

FOOD: Herbivores. They store fat (not water) in humps and their bodies breaks it down for nourishment when needed.  They regurgitate and re-chew food, getting lots of protein and energy from low quality plants. They can go without water for weeks by changing their body temperature and making concentrated urine.  These camels may drink 15 gallons of water at once.

BEHAVIOR: Breed in February or March, gestation of young is 13 months. Calves nurse for a year and mature at 5 years. Camels are often trained to “cush”, or lay on their knees to allow loading.

DOMESTICATION: First domesticated before 2,500 B.C. and used in the silk trade in China as early as 300 B.C. They can carry up to 600 pounds, their fur is woven (see items in our gift shop), and their dung is used for fuel.

CONSERVATION: Bactrian camels are endangered in the wild, with only 300 still wild in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. In zoos, visitors see domesticated Bactrian camels. Visit the WILD CAMEL PROTECTION FOUNDATION to learn more!


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alpaca

LIFE SPAN: 20 years.

RANGE: Alpacas are native to the Andes Mountains. They are only found as domesticated pack animals, with no wild herds present (vicunas are found in wild herds—ancestors of alpacas).

SIZE: Adults weigh between 90 and 200 pounds. Their average height is 3.5 to 4 feet. They are grown by four years of age.

PHYSICAL FEATURES: Alpacas are small members of the camel family. They have no humps and are similar in size to llamas (alpacas are slightly smaller). An alpaca has a heavier fleece coat when compared to a llama and is believed to be of superior quality due to the minimal presence of coarse guard hair. They establish communal dung piles, or one area where they use the bathroom (often called a “latrine”). The use of communal latrines keeps the remaining area dry and clean for rolling and grazing. They have no top front teeth and have padded feet. They are also modified ruminants who chew their cud, however they have a 3-chambered stomach instead of the 4-chambered cattle stomach.

FOOD: Alpacas eat grass. They have adapted to eat rough vegetation and are not particular about food. They are easy to keep, as they need only grass/hay and mineral supplements.

BEHAVIOR: Alpacas are well-adapted to life at high altitudes.  Their blood contains more red cells and their hemoglobin binds more efficiently to oxygen. They will spit if cornered and are very precise with their aim. They can interbreed with their cousins, the llamas, to produce fertile offspring. They prefer same-species groups, with one member alerting others to threats or dangers.

CONSERVATION: Archaeologists believe alpacas were domesticated 6,000 years ago in Peru. They were domesticated from wild vicunas and bred by the Incas for their fine coat.