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Ship of the desert: Camel capers

Published Aug 04, 2013 03:13pm


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HAVING always been warned that camels are nasty, biting, spitting, kicking and temperamental creatures, but having long wanted to meet one face-to-face and gain my own impression, it was with tremendous anticipation that I headed off to visit a racing camel farm in a United Arab Emirates desert outpost.

With temperatures soaring towards 50C, the desert shimmered like a mirage in the tremendous heat and a blistering hot, sand laden wind sent miniature whirlwinds dancing across seemingly endless expanses of burning sand dotted with the occasional ‘Camel-thorn’, or acacia tree. It felt like hours before the vehicle I was travelling in bumped to a halt in the stony sand parking area of the camel farm that was my destination.

Inquisitive camel faces followed my every move as, accompanied by the farm manger who the camels obviously knew well, I walked to meet my first ever racing camels whose sleepy beauty is very different from the appearance of those often visibly bored camels seen at places such as the beaches in Karachi; and different too than the hardworking camels of desert and agricultural regions here at home in Pakistan.

A little wary of getting too close to these graceful racing camels in case one of them decided to bite, I was astonished when the farm manager, an experienced camel man from Sindh, laughingly explained that these were perfectly friendly female camels and that it is the male camels that have a bad tempered tendency to bite.

Armed with this information, I stood my ground when a curious camel slowly approached me, stopped a few feet away and then, ever so gently, stretched out her long neck, lowered her head and nudged my shoulder to demand my full attention and for me to stroke her — as it did!

The softness of her nose and mouth and the friendliness in her huge, long lashed, brown eyes was awesome and I was totally lost and in love with this beautiful animal and, needless to say, with all of her many companions as well.

Many of these innocently trusting camels had babies with them and, to my amazement, did not mind me petting these cuddly creatures in the slightest, seeming more taken up with sticking their soft noses in to the lens of my camera as they checked it — and me — out in complete, yet very careful, detail and calmly allowed me to continue stroking their off-spring as these six-month-old baby camels sucked milk from their proud mothers.

Racing camels are a breed apart from ordinary working camels. These sleek, very costly, animals are pampered and looked after incredibly well by their owners as, if and when they win a race. Camel racing is a winter sport in the UAE, they are awarded massive amounts in prize money and pure gold items such as cups and swords. It used to be that racing camels were ridden by little boys, specially taken in to the country from poor areas of Pakistan, but this tradition of using live camel jockeys thankfully came to an end a few years ago and, when racing, the camels are now ridden by specially designed, radio controlled, miniature robots dressed up in their owners colours.

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