Not many people know that dromedary camels and Bactrian camels can interbreed. Their hybrid descendants usually have either a large misshapen hump or two humps: one small, one large. Their descendants are fertile and can produce further hybrids, though anything other than a first-generation female hybrid and a male Bactrian camel tends to produce offspring that is runty and bad tempered.

In the 1880s interested in the potential of camels to be used as beasts of burden in the vast interior of the Great Sandy Desert, British husbandry experts attempted to breed a Bactrian dromedary hybrid with three humps. Through a careful and expensive program of crossbreeding and back-breeding, they were able to produce a three-humped dromedary named Herbert in 1891.

Named after Lord Kitchener, the senior British Army officer who took a personal interest in the project, Herbert proved to be a hardy and sturdy beast of burden. With his three homes he could travel 75% further than a dromedary camel without water, and he was also capable of bearing a 50% heavier burden. While having three people ride him turned out to be impractical, Herbert was easily ridden by two people if saddled in the areas between his large humps.

A test expedition to Alice Springs in 1892 produced extremely positive results, not least of which because Herbert was generally gentle in temperament and fond of his handlers. Lord Kitchener gave his personal go-ahead for the husbandry experts to breed an entire herd of three-hump type camels for use in Australia.

Unfortunately, Herbert himself proved to be sterile as a result of the extensive breeding put into his birth, and further experiments failed to lead to a three humped camel that lived longer than a few minutes after birth. As such, the program was terminated in 1900, and Herbert was put on display in the Melbourne zoo for the remainder of his life. He was a great favorite of children in his time there, and was housed with a female dromedary jokingly named Fitzgerald by people who knew perhaps too much about Lord Kitchener’s personal life.

Though Herbert himself died in 1918, he gave his name and image to a local Melbourne rugby club that played as the “Three-Humpers” until 1967, when the changing nature of the word “hump” made the moniker untenable.

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