Saturday, November 25, 2023

Kharai Camel

Kharai Camel UPSC

The Kharai camel is a unique and special breed of camel found in the coastal regions of Kutch in Gujarat, India. It is often referred to as the "swimming camel" due to its remarkable ability to swim in the sea. They are also known as dariyataru (sea-swimmer).

The name "Kharai" is derived from the local word "Khara," which means salty, indicating the camel's ability to survive in saline and marshy conditions. This breed is well-adapted to both dryland and coastal ecosystems, making it a distinctive "ecotonal" species. It can survive in areas with high salinity, including salt marshes.

One of the most notable features of the Kharai camel is its ability to swim. These camels can swim long distances, up to 3 kilometers into the sea, in search of their primary food source, which is mangroves.

The Kharai camel is recognized as an endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The breed faces threats due to factors such as the decreasing availability of mangroves, industrialization along the coast, and changes in traditional grazing routes.

The Kharai camel's ability to survive in both land and sea environments, its swimming prowess, and its significance to the local communities make it a unique and culturally important breed in the coastal regions of Gujarat.

Table of Contents

  • Kharai Camel Characteristics
    • Classification
    • Scientific Name
    • Habitat
    • Physical Appearance
    • Diet
    • Behavior
    • Reproduction
    • Lifespan
    • Speed
    • Economic Importance
  • Kharai Camel in India
  • Kharai Camel Protection Status
  • Kharai Camel Conservation in India
  • Threats
  • Kharai Camel Unique Feature
  • Kharai Camel UPSC Question

Kharai Camel Characteristics

Here are some characteristics of the Kharai camel:

1. Classification:

The classification of the Kharai camel is as follows:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Artiodactyla
  • Family: Camelidae
  • Genus: Camelus
  • Species: Camelus dromedarius

The Kharai camel belongs to the same species as the dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius), which is known for having a single hump. However, the Kharai camel is a distinct breed within this species, characterized by its adaptation to a coastal, semi-aquatic environment and its ability to swim in the sea.

2. Scientific Name:

The scientific name of the Kharai camel is Camelus dromedarius. This is the same scientific name as the dromedary camel, which is the one-humped camel found in various parts of the world. 

3. Habitat:

The Kharai camel is uniquely adapted to a dual habitat, thriving in both saline desert environments and coastal ecosystems. Specifically, they are found in the coastal regions of Kutch in Gujarat, India. This area encompasses a mix of arid and saline conditions, including salt marshes, mangrove islands, and coastal plains.

(i) Saline Desert Environment:

The camel is well-adapted to survive in saline desert conditions, where vegetation may be limited, and the soil has a higher salt content. It can navigate and graze in areas with high salinity, showcasing its resilience in arid landscapes.

(ii) Coastal Ecosystem:

The Kharai camel's habitat extends to coastal regions, including tidal creeks and mangrove islands. These camels exhibit the unique ability to swim in the sea, reaching islands for grazing, which is a crucial aspect of their coastal habitat.

(iii) Adaptation to Mangrove Islands:

During the monsoon, Kharai camels are often left on mangrove islands for extended periods, where they feed on mangroves and other saline-loving plants.

(iv) Seasonal Grazing Routes:

The Kharai camel's grazing routes vary seasonally, and they are known for their nomadic behavior. They move in search of suitable vegetation, adapting their movements to the changing seasons.

(v) Lack of Special Shelters:

As nomadic grazers, the Kharai camels are constantly on the move, and herders do not build special shelters for them. During the monsoon, their prolonged stay on mangrove islands aligns with the availability of abundant food and water resources in these areas.

The Kharai camel's habitat is not confined to a single ecological niche, making it a unique and adaptable species that can thrive in the challenging conditions of both arid deserts and coastal areas.

4. Physical Appearance:

The physical appearance of the Kharai camel is distinctive and well-adapted to its challenging dual habitat of saline deserts and coastal regions. Here are key features of its physical appearance:

(i) Sturdy Build:

The Kharai camel has a sturdy and robust build, well-suited for navigating diverse terrains, including salt marshes and coastal plains.

(ii) Compact Body:

Possesses a compact body structure, which aids in maneuvering through various environments with ease.

(iii) Single Hump:

The Kharai camel is a dromedary camel, characterized by a single hump on its back. This hump is a reservoir of fatty tissue, not water, as commonly believed. The stored fat can be converted into energy and water, providing the camel with sustenance during periods of scarcity.

(iv) Long Legs:

Characterized by long legs, allowing it to walk across marshy and coastal areas and swim in the sea for considerable distances.

(v) Broad Chest:

The camel has a broad chest, contributing to its physical strength and endurance, essential for its nomadic lifestyle.

(vi) Gently Padded Hooves:

Gently padded hooves provide adaptability to wet and salty coastal lands, facilitating movement in these challenging terrains.

5. Diet:

The diet of the Kharai camel is uniquely adapted to its coastal habitat and includes the following key aspects:

(i) Mangroves and Saline Plant Species:

The primary food source for Kharai camels is mangroves and other saline plant species. They consume large volumes of mangroves, showcasing their adaptation to the coastal ecosystem with high salinity.

(ii) Monsoon Grazing on Mangrove Islands:

During the monsoon, Kharai camels are often left on mangrove islands for an extended period, approximately three months. The mangrove islands serve as abundant grazing grounds for the camels during this time.

(iii) Water Source:

Rainwater collected in depressions on the land provides a natural drinking water source for the camels during their stay on mangrove islands. This adaptation allows them to meet their water needs while grazing in coastal areas.

(iv) Water Requirements:

An adult Kharai camel requires about 20 to 40 liters of water per day. Their ability to survive with limited water resources is essential for thriving in arid and coastal environments.


6. Behavior:

The behavior of the Kharai camel is marked by several distinctive features, showcasing its adaptation to both coastal and arid environments:

(i) Swimming Ability:

One of the most remarkable behaviors of the Kharai camel is its unique swimming ability. These camels can swim long distances in the sea, covering usually more than 3 kilometers at a time, even in deep waters. The swimming adaptation allows them to access grazing areas on islands near the shore, contributing to their nomadic lifestyle.

(ii) Nomadic Grazing Patterns:

The Kharai camels exhibit nomadic behavior, constantly moving in search of suitable vegetation. Their grazing routes vary seasonally, and they are adapted to a lifestyle that involves frequent movement to find food resources.

(iii) Monsoon Stay on Mangrove Islands:

During the monsoon, Kharai camels are often left on mangrove islands for extended periods, aligning with the availability of abundant food resources in these areas.

(iv) Lack of Special Shelters:

Due to their constant movement and nomadic lifestyle, Kharai herders do not build special shelters for the camels. The camels adapt to changing environmental conditions, including weather and food availability, without relying on permanent structures.

(v) Adaptation to Dual Ecosystems:

The ability to swim in seawater and graze on mangroves showcases the Kharai camel's unique adaptation to both dryland and coastal ecosystems. This dual adaptation is a distinctive feature, setting the Kharai camel apart as a breed capable of thriving in diverse environments.

(vi) Domestication:

The Kharai camel has been domesticated by local communities in the coastal regions of Kutch, Gujarat, for various purposes, including transportation and economic returns from the sale of male calves.

7. Reproduction:

Reproduction in camels, including the Kharai camel, involves several key aspects:

(i) Gestation Period:

The gestation period for camels, including Kharai camels, is typically around 13 to 15 months. This period may vary slightly among individuals.

(ii) Mating and Breeding:

Camels are induced ovulators, meaning that ovulation is triggered by mating. Female camels come into estrus (heat) several times a year. Mating usually occurs during the breeding season, and male camels may exhibit aggressive or territorial behavior during this time.

(iii) Calving:

The birthing process, known as calving, results in the delivery of a single calf in most cases. Twins are rare. Calving often takes place in a protected area, and the mother provides care and nourishment to the newborn calf.

(iv) Calf Care:

The newborn calf is typically able to stand and walk shortly after birth. The mother, nurses the calf with her milk, which is essential for the calf's growth and development.

(v) Weaning:

Calves are weaned from their mothers' milk after several months, usually around 6 to 12 months of age.

(vi) Reproductive Age:

Both male and female camels reach sexual maturity at different ages. Female camels are generally ready for reproduction by the age of 3 to 4 years, while male camels may mature slightly later.

(vii) Role of Herders:

Herders play a crucial role in managing the reproductive aspects of camels, including selecting suitable mates, overseeing the calving process, and ensuring the well-being of both dams and calves.

8. Lifespan:

The lifespan of Kharai camels, as with other camel breeds, can be influenced by various factors such as genetics, living conditions, healthcare, and environmental factors.  Camels, including the Kharai breed, typically have an average lifespan of around 20 to 30 years.

9. Speed:

Camels are not known for high-speed running. Their average walking speed is around 5.6 to 6.4 kilometers per hour. While camels are adapted for long-distance travel in arid environments, they are not built for rapid sprints.

The Kharai camel is known for its exceptional swimming ability. They can swim long distances in the sea, covering more than 3 kilometers at a time, even in deep waters. The swimming adaptation is a unique feature that sets the Kharai camel apart, allowing it to access grazing areas on islands near the shore.

10. Economic Importance: 

The milk of Kharai camels is consumed by people, and male calves are often sold for economic returns. The breed plays a significant role in the livelihood of local communities in the coastal regions of Kutch.

Kharai Camel in India

The Kharai camel holds a significant presence in India. The Kharai camel is primarily found in the Kutch district of Gujarat, which is characterized by a mix of arid desert and coastal ecosystems. Kutch has a substantial population of Kharai camels, estimated to be around 5,000 to 6,000 camels.

The Kharai camel is recognized for its ability to thrive in both saline desert environments and coastal ecosystems. This dual adaptation makes it a unique and valuable breed in the region.

The breeding and management of Kharai camels are often associated with specific communities in the region. The Fakirani Jats are known as the handlers, while the Rabaris are the communities that own these camels. 

The Rabaris are spread across Bhachau and Mundra talukas and the Fakirani Jats live in Bhachau, Mundra, Lakhpat and Abdasa talukas as well as in other coastal districts of Gujarat such as Ahmedabad, Bharuch, Anand and Bhavnagar. 

The Kharai camel holds cultural significance for the communities involved in their breeding. They are used for various purposes, including transportation, and the sale of male calves provides economic returns for the camel breeders.

The National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) recognized the Kharai camel as a separate breed in 2015. This recognition distinguished it as the ninth camel breed found in India, separate from the Kutchi camel.

The Kharai camel's presence in India reflects its unique adaptation to the diverse and challenging environments of the Kutch region, highlighting its cultural, economic, and ecological importance in the coastal landscape.

Kharai Camel Protection Status

IUCN Status: The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Kharai camel as "Endangered." This classification indicates that the species faces a high risk of extinction in the wild.

Kharai Camel Conservation in India

The conservation of the Kharai camel in India involves addressing various challenges, including habitat loss, declining population, and socio-economic pressures on the communities involved in camel breeding. Here are key aspects related to Kharai Camel conservation in India:

1. Protected Areas Advocacy: 

Breeders and communities advocate for the declaration of mangrove forests as "protected areas" to ensure the conservation of these ecosystems and the Kharai camels.

2. Preservation of Grazing Routes: 

Efforts are needed to preserve the traditional grazing routes of Kharai camels, which may involve negotiating with authorities and addressing conflicts with industrial activities.

3. Community Involvement:

Engaging local communities, such as Fakirani Jats and Rabaris, in conservation efforts is crucial. Their traditional knowledge and practices can contribute to sustainable conservation strategies.

4. Government Policies:

Advocacy for policies that support the conservation of the Kharai camel and its habitat, including measures to control and mitigate the impact of industrial activities on mangrove ecosystems.

5. Research and Monitoring:

Conducting research on the ecology and behavior of Kharai camels, as well as monitoring their population dynamics, can provide valuable information for conservation planning.

6. Livelihood Diversification: 

Supporting communities in diversifying their livelihoods can alleviate economic pressures and reduce dependence on camel-related activities.

7. Mangrove Protection:

The survival of Kharai camels is closely tied to the protection of mangrove ecosystems. Balancing economic development with mangrove conservation is a complex challenge.

8. Sustainable Practices:

Implementing sustainable practices for both environmental conservation and camel breeding is essential for the long-term survival of the Kharai camel.

9. Climate Change Impacts:

Assessing and addressing the potential impacts of climate change on the coastal ecosystem and the Kharai camel population is crucial for conservation planning.

10. Collaborative Efforts:

The conservation of the Kharai camel requires collaborative efforts involving local communities, government authorities, environmental organizations, and researchers. Balancing conservation goals with the socio-economic needs of the communities is a key consideration in developing effective and sustainable conservation strategies.


The threats faced by the Kharai camel breeders and the challenges posed to the survival of the Kharai camels are following:

1. Decreasing Mangroves:

Heavy industrialization along the coast, including industries such as salt production, thermal power, cement, and shipyards, has led to the steady decrease in mangroves. Mangroves serve as a crucial food source for Kharai camels, and their decline affects the traditional grazing routes of the camels.

2. Demand for Protected Areas:

Kharai breeders are demanding the declaration of mangrove forests as 'protected areas' to safeguard the habitat and food sources critical for the survival of the camels. This reflects the recognition of the need for conservation measures to prevent the extinction of the Kharai camel.

3. Impact of Industrial Activities:

Industries in the Kutch region, especially those requiring the construction of jetties in the sea, contribute to the cutting down of mangroves that are essential fodder for Kharai camels. The increase in salinity due to industrial activities further minimizes the availability of camel food and water sources.

4. Financial Challenges for Breeders:

The main source of income for Kharai breeders is the sale of young camels, but this income is declining. Camel milk and wool, which are also products of the camels, face challenges in the market, leading breeders to consume these products themselves.

5. Impact of Marine National Park Limits:

The formation of the Marine National Park in 1994 has led to continuous expansion of its limits by the forest department. The forest department's rules prohibit camels from grazing in the park area, restricting access to mangroves and posing a threat to the survival of Kharai camels.

6. Migration and Selling of Camels:

Due to the non-availability of food, many camel owners are either migrating or forced to sell their camels in Kutch. This migration and selling of camels highlight the challenges faced by breeders in sustaining their traditional practices.

7. Demand for Grazing Facilities:

Breeders, such as Jaga Rabari from Chudeshwar village, are demanding the government to declare a protected area near the seashore to allow camels to graze. Comparisons are drawn with areas in Gir protected zone where certain conditions allow cattle breeders to graze their animals, and similar facilities are requested for Kharai camels in the Marine National Park area.

Kharai Camel Unique Feature

What is unique about Kharai Camel?

The Kharai camel possesses several unique features that make it distinct from other camel breeds:

1. Swimming Ability:

The Kharai camels are renowned for their special ability to swim in seawater, which is a distinctive characteristic. They can swim up to three kilometers (1.8 miles) in the sea, allowing them to reach islands near the shore in search of food, particularly mangroves.

2. Adaptation to Saline Environment:

The name "Kharai" itself means 'salty' in Gujarati, highlighting the breed's adaptation to saline environments. These camels have adapted to the extreme climate of the desert, as well as shallow and deep-sea waters with high salinity.

3. Feeding on Saline Plants and Mangroves:

The unique diet of Kharai camels includes feeding on saline plants and mangroves. They swim to islands near the shore during the rainy season to graze on mangroves and other saline-loving plants.

4. Gentle Padded Hooves:

Their hooves are gently padded, allowing them to navigate wet and salty coastal land with ease. This adaptation is essential for their movement in diverse terrains, including both desert and coastal areas.

5. Nomadic Grazing Pattern:

Kharai camel breeders follow a natural grazing pattern that varies seasonally. Unlike some other breeds, Kharai camels are constantly on the move, and breeders do not build permanent shelters for them.

6. Commercial Uses:

The long, smooth hair of the Kharai camels can be utilized in various products such as stoles, bags, and rugs. This aspect adds to the economic significance of the breed beyond their role in milk production and as a mode of transport.

7. Traditional Breeding Practices:

Kharai breeders have been involved in breeding these camels for years, following traditional practices. Despite their unique abilities, it wasn't until 2010 that wider recognition and awareness about these swimming camels gained prominence.

8. Health Beliefs:

There is a belief among the communities that the milk of Kharai camels has health benefits, including a claim that drinking their milk can cure diabetes.

Kharai Camel UPSC Question

Q. What is Kharai camel also known as?

A. The Kharai camel is also known as the "Swimming Camel" due to its unique ability to swim in seawater. This distinctive feature sets it apart from other camel breeds and is a key characteristic that defines the breed. The name "Swimming Camel" reflects its special adaptation to coastal environments and its capability to navigate through seawater, especially during the search for mangroves, a primary food source for these camels.

Q. What is the IUCN of Kharai camel?

A. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified the Kharai camel as "Endangered." This designation indicates that the species is facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. The "Endangered" status highlights the importance of conservation measures to protect and sustain the Kharai camel population, considering the various threats and challenges it faces in its natural habitat.

Kharai Camel

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