In this episode, Mark Evans and Dr. Joy Reidenberg brave the Australian Outback to dissect a camel, the ultimate desert survivor.
We don’t think of Australia as the home of camels, yet in the middle of this vast continent there are over a million feral dromedaries roaming around. European settlers introduced them over a century ago to help build Australia’s railways and explore the outback. But with the advent of roads, cars and trucks, camels were no longer needed, so their owners released them into the desert. Instead of dying off, camels had a population explosion, increasing their numbers until they now play havoc with the environment and destroy native species. In an attempt to cut back the destruction, the Australian government has introduced a culling program.
Braving soaring heat and scorching sun, the dissection team uncovers the secret of the camel’s hump and investigates how its elastic legs, stretchy lips and pedestal (a strange bump on its chest) are among the many surprising adaptations that enable these animals to thrive in such a dry and hostile environment. Other strange adaptations include an extension of its soft palate that can be inflated out of its mouth like a big red balloon. To female camels this is irresistible — particularly when the male covers his mouth with wads of white saliva. (The camel, if fully hydrated, will produce 80 liters of saliva per day.)
Richard Dawkins explores the history of the camel and other “invasive species” in Australia, and reveals its surprising origins in North America. And Simon Watt learns how to break in and ride a wild camel from champion camel-jockey Glenda Sutton. He discovers that although this animal does spit and kick – there’s much more to marvel at than its cantankerous reputation. Series producer: David Dugan.
Producer/director: Tom Mustill.
Watch Wednesday, June 27, 2012 at 9pm.