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Camels Better Than Cows and Sheep For Environment

Update Date: Apr 10, 2014 04:51 PM EDT

Camels are better than cows or sheep when it comes to saving the environment, according to a new study.

Cow and sheep produce a major proportion of methane worldwide, according to researchers who estimate that around 20 percent of global methane emissions stem from ruminants. Atmosphere methane promotes the greenhouse effect, and scientists are currently looking for ways to cut methane production through ruminants.

While researchers do not know much about reducing methane production via ruminants, they know that ruminants produce more of the gas per amount of converted feed than other herbivores.

Researchers said that camels are the only other animal group that regularly "ruminates" like cows and sheep. These animals include alpacas, llamas, dromedaries and Bactrian camels, which have multi-chambered forestomachs. Researchers explain that camels also regurgitate food to reduce it in size through chewing. This is why, up until now, it was assumed that camels produce just as much methane as ruminants.

New research, conducted by investigators at the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, has debunked previous assumptions. The study revealed that camels actually release less methane than cows and sheep of comparable body size.

Researchers note that methane production is the same in both groups when comparing methane production with the amount of converted feed.

"To calculate the proportion of methane produced, different estimated values should be used for camels than those used for ruminants," Marcus Clauss from the Vetsuisse Faculty of the University of Zurich, said in a news release.

"The results show us that camels have a lower metabolism. Hence, they need less feed and release less methane than our domestic ruminants," Clauss added. Researchers explain that camels' lower metabolisms could explain why they can survive in areas with shortage of food like desert and barren mountain regions.

The findings are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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