One-Humped Wonder

If the Sahara is thought of as an ocean -- an analogy that makes the history of the desert a little less strange -- then the oases are its islands; the nomadic tribes its mariners, pilots, and pirates; and camels its ships.

The camel would seem to have been introduced into the Western Sahara in the first 500 years A.D. It has proven almost impossible to trace the stages of its immigration, but there is no doubt that its arrival represented a development as revolutionary in its way as the replacement of the stagecoach by the railroad. Prior to the coming of the camel, men used both horses and pack oxen in the Sahara. Neither of these animals fell completely out of use, but the camel, with its extraordinary capacity for traveling long distances with little or no water, was far better adapted for the strenuous conditions of the desert. The camel made possible the establishment of regular trading caravans across the Sahara. They also increased the insecurity of desert life by enabling the strong to prey more effectively on the weak, gradually transforming the political patterns of the Sahara.

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