One of the first depictions of this imperial animals on Tuvan territory was found by archeologists in the district of Upper Yenisei. An ancient artist engraved the drawing of a camel already in the first century before our era.
The camel - "teve" - is mentioned many times in Tuvan folk epics, where the animal is compared to the hero-warrior, whose nostrils spout smoke, and whose step shakes and crumbles mountains. There have always been camels in Tuva. Nevertheless, they remain, and probably will remain exotic even for Tuvan residents for many years to come.
The comparison of a hero to a camel - where just the sight of one should terrify the enemy and send him running away from the field of battle - is not an invention. The camels' mating season starts in December - January.
Robert Seden-Khuurak, a herder's assistant from a breeding genetic reserve facility MUP "Bayan-Kol", told us once: "It is frightening to have to approach a male during these days. We tie a red flag to his neck as a warning of the danger. The weather is freezing, and he gets up on top of the highest mountain and stands there, cooling off in the freezing wind. The impression is really such that smoke is coming out of him, and if you accidentally annoy him, he could even burst into flames."
Camels are now bred in four districts of Tuva - Kyzyl, Ulug-Khem, Tes-Khem and Erzin. The population was never large. In TNR, until 1945, there were about 3000 heads. By 1970, only 1810 remained, including 640 breeding females. In 1972, when a veterinary made a mistaken diagnosis of brucellosis, many were slaughtered - 107 individuals on just one of the facilities. Already by the late '90's, when the economy was beginning to brighten, many camels in two districts perished in a flood. In 2000's, the population counted less than 200, and only in the past few years the numbers of camels have been slowly rising. Currently just the MUP "Bayan-Kol" alone has 47 camels. We first met Robert Seden-Khuurak back in 2008. Back then he told us that in 2007, 14 animals were killed here because of brucellosis (this time the diagnosis was correct), and 2 perished of other causes. Only two baby camels were born that year. But in the spring of 2008, eight tiny Bactrians were born in the herd at the same time, and this was a cause for a real celebration. The spring of 2011 was marked by an even more grandiose event - the herd increased by 11 camel colts. A record. Over the past years, Bayan-Kol was not used to such numbers. The babies as well as their mothers feel great. This increase was possible because in 2009 the herd gained three stud males from another Russian region, where Bayan-Kol bulls were sent in exchange. There were other changes in the town as well.
Older son Khuler has become the master and herder in Kyzyl-Chyraa (Red Willows), because his father has ceded everything to him. Robert himself has moved to the winter station, which was set up by the younger son, Aidash. As a matter of fact, the winter station is about 3 - 4 kilometers from Kyzyl-Chyraa. In local terms, it is just around the corner, and both the father and younger brother regularly visit Kyzyl-Chyraa. And that is the right thing to do. Our visit did not go unnoticed either - a rider on a horse (it turned out to be Aidash) showed up several minutes after the office "UAZ" braked near the houses at the foot of the mountains. He explained - Brother went to see the herd, which is now grazing on Yenisei islands. Only the very young daughter-in-law with little kids remained at home. He had to check who was visiting and why…
Both brothers already have their own sheep herd and one herd of horses for both families. The places around the area are rich - a lot of grass, and enough water the year round. In the summer, they water the animals in the river, in winter - from a well. It is practically impossible to bring in electricity to this area, and solar batteries are the salvation. True, as Aida, the older brother's wife later admitted, it would be good to have a stronger battery, because with this one there is barely enough energy for one little lightbulb… they use it jus for charging cell phones.
Little Artysh (four) and Aria (Five) are now with their parents at the winter station. But it is time already to think about kindergarten, then about school! There are options, in the words of Kyzyl-born Aida, whose parents are still living in the capital, they just have to pick the most suitable ones. The children now are still living in their golden childhood years, and on top of that, in fresh air, surrounded by the magnificent virginal nature around Kyzyl-Chyraa.
Khuler never showed up. The chores of a herder and master of "Red Willows" will bring him home only very late at night. As his wife, who learned from experience, tells us - at night. There is always a lot to do at the winter station - sheep have to be separated into their barns, and the camels - into theirs. Freedom-loving Bactrians, because of their clever character, can slide wooden bolts open with their teeth and leave the paddock; Khuler has to watch the fence especially carefully and tie the gate closed with rope or with a soft wire. As a matter of fact, the camels of Kyzyl-Chyraa, even in winter, live and sleep outdoors - only a willow shed with one wall as a wind-break protecting the animals from the penetrating north-west wind, serves as their "bedroom". Thanks to rare, inimitable traits, brought about by a prolonged process of natural selection, Tuvan "Ships of the deserts" feel good year round in fresh air, they graze and sleep in the snow, and they make do with snow instead of water.
But there is plenty of hay in the area - MUP took care of that. Regardless of the fact that the winter pastures are rich, the camels need extra fodder. It is needed especially for the females, who should again please their herders with a good "harvest" in the spring of 2012.