Camels

The population of camels in India – at one time the third largest in the world – is on the decline. The Thar Desert of Rajasthan is their homeland. It provides them an adequate and ideal vegan diet along with climatic conditions that they require to thrive and remain healthy.

However, growing urban areas – industrialisation together with pressure on agricultural land, has led to the loss of the camels’ natural grazing land. Illegal slaughter for meat is another reason why their population is dipping. The Raika community, considered the guardians of the camel breeding herds or tolas, never sold female camels to any one except from their community, but gradually the situation has changed and many are sold by them at Pushkar for meat.

A 1997 survey put the population of camels in Rajasthan at nearly 700,000. In 2003 there was a decline of about 23% (bringing down the number to 498,000) and another decline of 18% in 2007 when the last camel census was undertaken. So by 2012 it was not surprising that only 4,21,836 camels were said to be left in the state although the NRCC (National Research Centre on Camel) earlier stated that on the last count India had 5,17,000 camels. They also stated that only 8,800 of the Mewari breed – which is dwindling fast – are left and they are the ones that are good for milk production with an average of 7-8 litres per day, as compared to Jaisalmeri or Bikaneri breeds which produce on an average only 5-6 litres of milk per day.

Although there are camels in Uttar Pradesh also, every month about 6,000 from Rajasthan are taken there. They are either illegally slaughtered for their meat, leather and bones, or are smuggled live along with cows to Bangladesh (via other states) where they are killed for meat. Made to walk great distances, even though their feet bleed, they undergo great hardships en route their destination.

Likewise, thousands more are taken out of Rajasthan and land up in different states and cities of India where they are commercially exploited. Despite suffering and eventually dying, it is a pity that Rajasthan has not banned camels from going out of the state, not to say that camels within the state are not exploited.

Unfortunately, camels from Rajasthan were also taken to different states like Jharkhand and used extensively as "campaign vehicles" for the 2009 elections. They were draped in banners and made to move around the city for Rs 500/- to Rs 1000/- per day. It is sad that the politicians showed no concern for the animals.

In India camels are native to Rajasthan and Gujarat; their physiology is suited to a dry desert climate (hot day, cool night) because they can go for long periods without drinking water and their padded feet are suited to soft desert sands. Camels therefore find it difficult to walk long distances and adjust to humid climatic conditions since they are desert animals. During the monsoon, most of them get contagious diseases such as anthrax and suffer and die, often without the required medical treatment. Also, outside Rajasthan and Gujarat, they do not get their ideal diet of desert shrubs and plants as a result of which they do not keep good health. BWC has therefore written more than once to both the Chief Ministers of Rajasthan and Gujarat pleading that they ban the export of camels from their states. Likewise, BWC has also requested the government of Uttar Pradesh to ban import and export.

Better late than never in February 2014, BWC was pleased to know that the Rajasthan Government was likely to accord state heritage status to the camel. The government was also planning to pass legislation to effectively check smuggling and slaughter of camels out of the state.


Camels are put under great stress: made to give "joy-rides" to many adults and children, and are frequently taken in processions where loud crackers are burst and there is a lot of commotion. When exhausted, they collapse and cry out in pain, but are forcefully pulled forward with ropes strung through the metal rings in their nostrils.


Spared


In 2009 the Karnataka High Court forbid camels to be brought into the state due to climatic conditions being unsuitable for them resulting in several deadly infectious diseases like anthrax which put other animals and humans at risk. According to the Dean of the Karnataka Veterinary, Animal and Fisheries Sciences at Hebbal, Bengaluru, camels made to walk in unsuitable climatic conditions with lack of food, rest and water en route, found the journey so stressful that they developed diseases such as tryanosomiases, bronco-pneumonia, intracellular haemoprotozoam, anthrax and even rabies.

At Bakri Idd, the unfortunate are not only bakris – camels and cattle are some times also illegally killed for feasting – on Ramzaan Idd as well. In November 2005, some BWC members in Kochi found that two camels had been brought to Kochi for feasting on camel meat. On receiving complaints the Kochi Corporation banned their slaughter. The owner of the camels approached the Kerala High Court but before the case could conclude one of the camels died due to poor living conditions and an improper diet. The judgement pronounced that the other camel could not be slaughtered on the grounds that there was no provision for slaughtering camels within the corporation limits, there was no qualified vet to certify its fitness for slaughter or suitability of its meat for human consumption, and that there was no one licensed to slaughter or sell camel meat.

Court cases have concluded that sacrificing animals such as camels, cows and calves, is not a religious requirement at Bakri Idd and therefore illegal.


Un-fair


Camel racing in the Middle East (with young children as jockeys) and Australia, and the Camel Festival – including beauty pageant for camels – held in Dubai are some of the internationally organised events involving camels. At the XII International Camel Race in Kebd, Kuwait, the organisers said that in 2005 human jockeys had been replaced by robots with owners whipping the racing camels via remotes. This was because camel owners bought children of small frames for the purpose. So some children got saved, but no camels.


In India, Kartik Purnima is the time when the world’s largest Cattle Fair takes place in Sonepur, near Patna. During this fortnight-long festival called the Harihar Kshetra Mela, a million heads of cattle are adorned and sold; horses and camels are also traded. In fact, different species of animals and birds sold include cows, oxen, buffaloes, dogs, and birds/parrots. But, following the government’s ban on sale, heavily decorated elephants are merely displayed or gifted – actually sold but “gifted” on paper. Each year this fair, originally known as Malegaon Mela, has more and more theatre performances by skimpily clad dance girls, and lesser animals traded.


India's second largest Cattle Fair is at Nagaur in Rajasthan. In addition to cows, bullocks and oxen, camels and horses are traded, and camel racing is included in the festivities along with illegal cock-fights. In fact, camel rides, races, dances, acrobatics and some times camel polo are a part of all the Desert Festivals like that at Jaisalmer. At the famous Bikaner Camel Festival every January, a pageant is held in which decked up camels are made to dance.

Camels and horses have been introduced at Asia's biggest donkey fair, a 500 year old traditional festival of Sanganer, near Jaipur, organised by the All-India Donkey Development Mela Committee at which donkeys are traded and also made to race.

Camel safaris across Rajasthan are organised to attract tourists. They were started in 1987 by Tourism of India and involve people being taken for long rides like on the sands of Jaisalmer. Believe it or not, the Armed Forces Medical College, in 2008 organised a week long camel safari covering 130 kms and 6 villages for medical cadets who conducted health education lectures and surveyed immunisation of children in the Barmer district of Rajasthan.


Races involving animals such as camels, donkeys, elephants and buffaloes are organised as a kind of novelty or attraction at a fair or some other function without showing any consideration whatsoever for the poor animals involved. The worst of these is possibly the camel races at the annual Pushkar Fair, near Ajmer, again in Rajasthan, where as many as a dozen persons sit atop a single bedecked camel, made to race other camels. They lope over the sand throwing riders off their backs – the one that carries the most number of people wins. Unfortunately, camels are increasingly kept in the desert solely for sports like such racing and fights or unth laddi (hardly for transportation purposes) since it involves winning cash prizes. Some camels are even trained to give “dance” performances by throwing their legs around awkwardly while sprinting across the ground. In 2009 less than 20,000 camels were seen at the fair, but ten years earlier about 50,000 were present. Trading in and competitions for cattle and camels, camel beauty contests (for which their noses are pierced for a ring to be inserted and their fur meticulously cut-out in intricate patterns and dyed resulting in typical carpet designs having flowers, birds and geometrical shapes), selling of finery, saddles, whips and footwear is all an integral part of this fair. Ironically, the leather as well as bone jewellery sold is of camel origin.


Exploited to the Hilt


Camel hide is not only commonly used in Rajasthan for slippers/mojadis and for kupis (decorative painted/embossed bottles for perfume/oil/water) but entire pieces of furniture, bags, doors and artefacts like lampshades, vases and bowls are covered with camel leather, some of which is embossed in gold and other colours. Usta artists who do this Cordwain work (i.e. decorating leather for walls by embossing/painting) refuse to compromise and use artificial leather. Their work adorns walls and ceilings of both Hindu shrines and Muslim dargahs.

Camel hide/skins/leather is considered stronger than bovine hide/leather. It is tanned as “fur-on” and “fur-off”, is available as matt finish in a variety of colours and called wet-blue, crust or finished leather; and, is made into hats, boots and fashion garments in Australia.

On the other hand, experiments with camel excreta to produce paper are being undertaken in North America and Europe.

Thought of as the model of endurance, in India camels still help plough land as well as transport humans and goods. In Churu district camels are used to pull novel double-decker school busses. Camel caravans operate on the outskirts of many towns in Rajasthan. However, BWC has to its horror come across so-called animal rights people, who, instead of working to end such exploitation, recommend the use of camels, elephants and monkeys for pulling loads in sugar and other factories!

The National Research Centre on Camel (NRCC) situated in Rajasthan on the outskirts of Bikaner at Jorbeer has improved the traditional camel cart by installing electric indicators to avoid accidents after dusk. The NRCC, initially under the aegis of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research was started with the mandate of developing infrastructure facilities for conservation and preservation of existing breeds of camel in arid and semi-arid regions and to generate scientific and technical information.

Sadly, the NRCC is now giving emphasis on transforming the "ship of the desert" into a milch animal and so a modern camel dairy has been set up at its campus. (120 litres of milk is produced daily at NRCC, of which 50% is sent to Faridkot in Punjab for distribution among mentally challenged children. Earlier it was reported that every day the Rajasthan Milk Federation collected 1,000 litres of camel milk and sold it in tetra packs as far as Delhi.) Plus, different camel herds have been subjected to the unnatural embryo transfer technique and selective breeding for genetic improvement of indigenous breeds. The females have been made to super ovulate and with the aim of reproducing thrice, instead of twice, in two years.

In addition to milk products, camel milk based derma-cream has been developed, the use of camel bone in place of ivory is encouraged (like carved statuettes, idols, prayer beads, lamp stands, boxes, bowls, photo frames, chess sets and inlay handicrafts), as also coloured, polished and embossed trendy camel bone jewellery, and camel hair blended with wool. A Kullu weaver’s cooperative produces caps and stoles made from a mixture of fine camel wool and silk. A NGO near Udaipur has begun producing handmade paper from camel dung. And in 2011 an Indo-German endeavour to manufacture such paper inaugurated its factory near Sadri in Rajasthan.


In April 2011 the NRCC announced that a white camel (not an albino) had been born and that they were carefully monitoring it and researchers would undertake genetic studies.

Meanwhile, the Veterinary College at Anand Agricultural University, Gujarat, claimed after testing on rats (?) that camel milk is beneficial to those suffering from diabetes and other diseases. Among several benefits derived, it contains approximately 52 units of an insulin-like protein per litre. Then in 2012, citing such benefits of camel milk, a news item reported that Gujarat planned on setting up a dairy for processing camel milk.

News from abroad


Luckily camel wrestling is not part of celebrations in India. In countries like Afghanistan and Turkey, particularly around the Persian New Year, after two male camels are led into the arena, a young female camel that is on heat, is paraded around them. This makes the males excited and aggressive enough to fight each other. At Turkey’s Selçuk championship 20,000 spectators enjoy watching camel duels – while eating camel meat.

In January 2011, a group of Arab researchers announced that based on camels’ strong immune systems, they had developed a medical formula for treating cancer using camel’s milk and urine. They said that experiments conducted on mice had proved to be 100% successful.

"Joy-rides"


All over the country camels, elephants and horses traditionally feature in festivals, religious functions and wedding processions. They are also made to perform and/or exhibited in circuses and occasionally welcome foreigners at particular venues for which they are covered in typical Rajasthani finery.

Camels, ponies, and elephants are used for "joy-rides" too, particularly in hill stations and tourist resorts, on beaches and in city-parks. The conditions under which these animals are kept are often pathetic. It is not uncommon for them to be loaded with the maximum number of adults and children they can physically hold. Naturally, some riders get thrown off. Both Indian and foreign tourists are responsible for patronising such "joy-rides" as is the government for allowing or offering them: for example, the Uttar Pradesh State Tourism Development Corporation offer “joy-rides” on camels and horses at the parking lot near the Taj Mahal in Agra.

In 1996 Beauty Without Cruelty played a leading role in obtaining a High Court ruling to stop the entry of camels into Mumbai, and to rehabilitate the existing ones back in the Rajasthan desert so that the "joy-rides" on Juhu beach became history.

No joy


In states other than Rajasthan, a considerable number of camels are seen on the roads. They are made to give rides to kids and adults and participate in processions. Some are utilised for carrying advertisement banners on their sides and made to walk long distances and in crowded areas. Camel rides are also promoted at resorts such as Choki Dhani.

Few people realise the cruelty involved. First and foremost, the poor animals have been walked all the way to far off destinations covering thousands of miles. The people who exploit them consider the animals to be replaceable commodities. A group of people with about 6-10 camels usually settle down illegally next to a local market yard so that free vegetable waste is accessible. Camels are desert animals and they are unable to adjust to different climatic conditions, especially humidity. This leads to them falling ill frequently and succumbing to diseases such as anthrax. Sick camels have been abandoned to die on highways to avoid medical expenses.


Awaiting Police Ban


It was heartening that in 2009 the Pune Police banned the use of camels (horses and elephants) taking part in processions. The restriction came about because of increasing cases of injury and human death due to the chaos that is created by traffic and bursting of crackers on roads. But, unfortunately, the ban in practice was short lived, and that too with frequent exceptions.

BWC is persistently demanding a ban, and has brought to the notice of the Police the illegal entry and use of camels in Pune. As per the provisions of the Acts and laws mentioned below which are binding on the Pune Police, camels should be banned from Pune:

* The Deputy Commissioner of Police (Operations) Brihan Mumbai has issued a notification under the clause (b) of sub section (1) of section 33 read with sub section (2) of section 10 of the Bombay Police Act 1951, inter alia gives the following directions:

(1) No person shall bring into any urban area or park thereof the city of Mumbai from any place outside such area or part thereof, for the purpose of joy rides and/or entertainment and/or any other commercial purpose.

(2) No person shall bring into any urban area or any part thereof including public places in the city of Mumbai, any camel from any place outside such area or part thereof, for the purpose of joy rides as they result in danger/obstruction / inconvenience to the public.

(3) No person shall use in the area of Brihan Mumbai from the date of this notification any "CAMEL" for the purpose of joy rides and/or entertainment and/or any other commercial purpose.

* Under the provisions of Bombay Police Act, 1951 Chapter VI Section 74 to 78, the Police are empowered to take action under the Act LIX of 1960.

* The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, Chapter III Section 11.

More than once BWC visited the site where at least 25 camels are kept in deplorable open-to-sky conditions at Pune and informed not only the Police Commissioner, but also wrote to the Deputy Chief Minister of Maharashtra for the first time in June 2011 urging him to direct an immediate ban because of the onset of the monsoon. It was also pointed out that camels brought from the desert regions to hill-stations of Lonavla and Khandala also suffered greatly due to unsuitable climatic and other conditions.


BWC’s continuous efforts over years to stop camels entering Pune have unfortunately failed, but we won’t give up. The saving grace is that in response to frequent requests made to the Pune Police by the Sarva Jeev Mangal Pratishthan and Beauty Without Cruelty, they began issuing orders banning the use of animals (camels, elephants, horses, ponies and cattle) in processions and rallies. The first such order was passed for Shivaji Maharaj Jayanti celebrated on 19 March 2014.


Camel rides are also offered to tourists in other climatically unsuitable places in Maharashtra like Panchgani, Mahableshwar and Alibaug. There too the poor animals suffer from skin infections, diarrhoea and painful joints. When they can not be cured they are simply abandoned. No record is kept of their numbers – not even when they succumb to infectious diseases like anthrax during the monsoon.

Camel Meat


Camel meat is not as common in India as it is in some other countries. To begin with, camel meat is illegal because to the best of our knowledge no slaughter houses in India have issued licences for camels to be killed. Around 2004 some rich Muslims of Hyderabad began buying and sacrificing camels in Hyderabad. From Andhra Pradesh the practice spread to other southern states like Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and even West Bengal. They are slaughtered for Bakri Idd in open spaces and even in residential areas, on streets and by-lanes in flagrant violation of municipal laws and health regulations. Moreover the killings indisputably contravene state laws pertaining to animal sacrifice. And how can any one forget that the poor camels have unsuspectingly walked thousands of kilometres from the Thar desert with their treacherous herders who ultimately sell them for sacrificial slaughter?

Pastirma is seasoned and dried meat of camel – it can also be the meat of a pig, buffalo, lamb or goat, but that of camel is the most prized. It is produced and consumed mainly in Turkey, the Middle East and East European countries.

Jerky are thin strips of marinated, burnt camel-meat which along with camel steaks, are traditional fancy foods promoted in Australia.

Cloning Camels


Cloning techniques continue to be experimented upon in different countries and involve different species, the camel being one of them. For example, Injaz (achievement in Arabic) was the 12th domestic camel cloned at Dubai's Camel Reproduction Centre in April 2009. The animal is the clone of a camel slaughtered for its meat.

Closer home, in August 2010, the National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources, Karnal, declared that they had registered unique genetic and physical characteristics of 135 breeds of buffaloes, goats, sheep, camels, poultry, etc. which they claimed to be the first step towards conserving these breeds.

Camel Hair


Not a single hair of a "Camel" paint brush is derived from a camel! "Camel" was the name of the man who owned the brand, which uses inexpensive hair types like those of goats, sheep, oxen (ear hair), horses, ponies, lower-grade squirrel hair, or blends of these. As for camel hair, it can be found mixed into woollen suiting manufactured by many well-known companies.

Camel Corps


The Nachna breed of camels is used for ceremonial occasions by the Camel Mounted Band of the Border Security Force (BSF) which holds the Guinness World Record for being the only one of its kind in the world. The contingent mounted upon 100 camels, playing bugles and trumpets in tune with the tinkling bells of the camels, marches at the Republic Day Parade every year, and has been appreciated by many foreign dignitaries.

Two months before Republic Day 2011, around 200 men and 92 camels from the BSF moved to Delhi and began daily rehearsals culminating in participation during the parade. On a ground off Palam Road they pitched 60 tents. Their daily practice routine began at 4 am when the camels were woken and fed. After puja the soldiers walked up to the camels and untied the knot that held them in place, gave them water to drink, placed saddles (with red cloth underneath them) on their backs after which all the camels galloped in their designated spaces to the far end of the ground. At 6.15 am, they left for South Block which took them 1½ hours. A musical band accompanied the contingent. At 7.30 am they reached Vijay Chowk where they rested for around 2½ hours waiting to rehearse on the Rajpath stretch.

Other breeds, the Bikaneri and Jaisalmeri, are the ones that are trained by the BSF to dodge bullets, transport rations, carry light artillery and rescue wounded men. In fact the BSF have a 700-strong contingent of camels that patrol the 1,400 km Indo-Pak border in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Camels that are about 5 years old are bought by the BSF at fairs and are put through rigorous training for up to a year. They are basically taught to obey commands such as sit, up, drink, buckle down, crawl, duck, etc. Trainers say they are moody and have short memories so need to practise what they are taught continuously – so much so, that a two day gap would take them back to learning from scratch.

Camels that are not docile fly into a temper lunge-forth and bite; some others may growl, foam at the mouth and refuse to obey commands; whereas some get aggressive when a female camel is nearby. Therefore they are all controlled by ropes and muzzles and some times plied with treats of gur to coax them to stop sulking. And, after 15 years of service, when they are no longer needed, they are sold off at auctions.

The BSF say camels are cheaper, they cost only Rs 90/- a day, they're eco-friendly – no polluting fumes, no punctures or breakdowns, and no spare parts required. True… but, at the cost of camel lives... training is cruel and based on submission, but who cares to even know?

Heartening


In August 2013, BWC was happy to receive the following e-mail referring to this very website page on Camels:


“I have just been searching for articles on the treatment of camels in Rajasthan because I was looking into importing Bone Inlay Furniture from Rajasthan into Australia. I thank you for your article and after reading it, have asked the supplier of the furniture if, there is a different material that is not derived from bone that can be used. I am unable, after reading your article, to go ahead and import the camel bone furniture into Australia, even though it is very beautiful, knowing that the animals have not been treated properly…”


In this connection, we would like to inform readers that most inlay work contained ivory till such time as it got banned. Bone and horn have completely replaced ivory. Mother-of-pearl and shells are also used for inlay work on wood and marble. Plastic is uncommon in India, but if asked for, bone is often passed off as plastic. However, Bidriware is metal and contains no animal products.

Page last updated on 05/04/14