Sad camels of the High Arctic -

Sad camels of the High Arctic

Tabatha Southey considers the place of the modern camel in history


“Moreover, we report that these deposits have yielded the first evidence of a High Arctic camel…Camels originated in North America and dispersed to Eurasia via the Bering Isthmus, an ephemeral land bridge linking Alaska and Russia. The results suggest that the evolutionary history of modern camels can be traced back to a lineage of giant camels that was well established in a forested Arctic.”

— Dr. Mike Buckley of University of Manchester in Nature Communications.

The mid-Pliocene Epoch was a warm period in the Earth’s history but the camels would still have endured temperatures well below freezing. Notably, the camels of Canada’s Ellesmere Island, were likely significantly woolier than modern camels. I was able to reach a small herd of camels near Giza, Egypt, for comment.

“Do you think my hair’s all right?” said Douglas, a camel. “I worry it’s thinning on top.” [Spit]

“I think it looks fine,” I said.

“Really?” he said. [Spit]

“Almost lustrous,” I said. “I’m just sort of surprised you’re answering me, I didn’t know your species could …”

“Talk? Yeah, well, of course we can talk,” said Clive, another camel. “You think we were going to talk to you assholes? I’ve been standing in the desert with a big hunk of fat on my back my entire life and now you people figure this ‘adapted for the High Arctic’ thing out?” [Spit]

“I have a relative with two humps,” said Mandy, a nearby camel, coming over effortfully. “Has major back trouble. Is still thirsty.” [Spit]

“Who brings fat to the desert?” continued Clive. “On purpose? Did no one ever wonder about this before? No, of course not. ‘Oooooh, lucky and ungracious ungulate! He’s got a big tank of water on his back!’ they all said. ‘Cheer-up Mr. Camel! What’s Mr. Camel’s problem? Mr. Camel certainly has no right to be irritable. Blessed as he is with all that water on his back, in the desert, where one might want water, not, say, 80 pounds of particularly dense fat.” [Spit]

“I just feel hair loss really ages a species” said Douglas. “Look at the elephants.” [Spit]

“Mastodons were so hot,” said Mandy. [Spit]

“You know what I’m sick of?” said Clive “The pyramids. I’m ridden to the pyramids, I’m ridden back from the pyramids. I’m ridden around the pyramids. It’s not enough that it’s 6 million degrees in the desert but you have to throw a bunch of carpets on me, add half your family and then take me to, ‘Oh! Where are we going?’ Oh great, the pyramids.” [Spit]

“Tell me about it. Sometimes when I’m walking across the blazing sand and I see a pyramid silhouetted on the horizon, I think, you know what I’d like to see there? A nice inukshuk,” said Stanley, also a camel. [Spit]

“I wish it was dark for six months of the year.” said Mandy. [Spit]

“You know what I’d like to see once in my life?” said Clive “Spit freezing in mid-air. That’d be neat.” [Spit]

“Honestly, I think I’d spit less if it wasn’t a gazillion degrees and I wasn’t constantly surrounded by a sand. I think I might be a lot less angry” said Mandy “I picture it sometimes—the forests, the lakes, the way the earth looks when the first snow has just fallen…I’m related to the moose, you know. Sometimes I want to do nothing more than wander out of a rich, boreal-type forest—stand in the middle of a highway at night. I could be flat-out majestic on the tundra.” [Spit]

All the other camels shifted awkwardly, even for camels, at her reverie.

“I’m losing my hair,” Douglas said helpfully into the silence. “I’d see a doctor about this hair loss thing,  but no socialized medicine, not here. It’d be nice if, when you crossed an ephemeral land bridge there was better signage. Could they have been more ambiguous than ‘ephemeral’? How about ‘millions of years of blistering sand and scorching sun this way.’” [Spit]

“I’m sorry it took the collagen fingerprinting of fragmentary fossil limb bones to get us talking,” I said.

“Fine. Whatever. ‘Hey, that species is 30 per cent smaller than it used to be, clearly not in a good mood, and practically bald but let’s just climb right on it anyway and haul ass out to the pyramids’ you all said. Nothing to worry about here. Let’s take pictures. Nothing cruel about taking pictures of a guy on a windy desert when he’s losing all his hair. Hell no, that should put him in an even better mood,’” said Douglas. [Spit]

“The feet shaped exactly like snowshoes, that wasn’t a clue?” said Mandy, “And you know who else has a convenient fat reserve? Is it my annoying little, yippy, sand-dwelling neighbour the Fennec Fox? Why no, it’s not. It’s the most excellent noble non-yippy beaver, who mounds up fat on his tail for the long winter ahead, kind of like, wait a second … oh, hey,  kind of like, who is it again? Oh, right, it’s me. But one of us lives in the desert.”

“How hard should this mystery have been to figure out? Yes, human, I’m looking at you.  With my large eyes that would have aided me enormously in low light.” [Spit]

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