Piebald Camels

Animal breeds are the diverse outcome of the thousands-year-long process of livestock domestication. Many of these breeds are piebald, resulting from the artificial selection by pastoralists of animals bearing a genetic condition known as leucism, and selected for their productive, behavioural, or aesthetical traits. Piebald dromedary camels have not been studied or discussed before, and their same existence is often overlooked. Based on fieldwork in Western Sahara, direct observations across Northern and East Africa and the Middle East, and a literature review, we address the morphological and behavioural traits, geographical distribution, taxonomy, and material and cultural importance of piebald (painted) camels. They are a hundreds-year-old camel breed used for caravans, as mounts, and for aesthetical and cultural reasons across Sudan, Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Western Sahara, and Morocco. While they are increasingly bred out of a pastoral context for tourism and entertainment in the Canary Islands, mainland Europe, and the USA, in part of their original African range, piebald camels are under threat due to wars, droughts, and demise of pastoral livelihoods. More research is needed about these ‘beautiful and dignified’ animals.

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