Image: wild camels
Eugene Hoshiko  /  AP
The number of wild camels — rugged creatures living in a former nuclear test zone with increasingly scarce water — in China's western Xinjiang territory has grown to about 500, making up about half of the world's population of the animals.
updated 1/16/2009 10:59:21 AM ET 2009-01-16T15:59:21

The number of wild camels — rugged creatures living in a former nuclear test zone with increasingly scarce water — in China's western Xinjiang territory has grown to about 500, making up about half of the world's population of the animals, state-run media reported Friday.

Scientists estimated that in the 1990s, only about 400 wild Bactrian camels were living in a national nature reserve in Xinjiang's Lop Nur region, while another 400 or so were in Mongolia, the state-run news Web site Tianshannet.com.cn quoted camel expert Yuan Lei as saying.

Yuan, a director at the camel reserve, said the bigger numbers of camels, based on a survey last spring, was largely due to a decrease in poaching, according to the report.

The camels, genetically distinct from their domesticated cousins, roam the vast desert region of Lop Nur, in southeastern Xinjiang, home to China's nuclear tests. They have developed the ability to survive by drinking briny water on the salt flats.

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