Racing Camels

Parimita Barooah Bora
Sunday, September 8, 2013

Camel racing is a favored sport in the Persian Gulf nations, and it is no different in Kuwait. It is a tradition that is firmly rooted in the culture of these desert nations, where the camel in times past was esteemed as a valuable animal, providing transport, meat and milk. Today amongst the material wealth of these nations, the camel is less important for these purposes, but camel racing is conducted in the present day with undiminished fervor.

Camel racing is in many ways somewhat different from horse racing, which is practiced throughout the world. Interestingly, racing camels are usually females as the males are considered to be ill-natured and difficult to handle. However the magic of science has reached the world of camel racing and now the finest female camels are induced to produce multiple egg cells, are artificially inseminated, and the fertilized embryos are implanted in ordinary female camels, which will give birth to the champion calves.



Thoroughbred Racing Camels are first put through their paces when they are about two years old. Initially the animals are trained to obey basic commands issued by the jockey. Then, a crucial two-kilometer gallop decides which have the ability for racing. To help build their stamina, the camels are made to run certain distances every day, which varies in proportion to their age. There are two main breeds being raced, the Omani and Sudania which differ in color - the Omani being very light and the Sudania more of a tan color. Traditionally, a racing camel is fed on dates, honey, alfalfa, milk and seeds. They are never allowed to drink the day before a race and were prevented from feeding for the 12 hour prior to a race. With this type of saddle the jockey sits behind the camel's hump.

Camels are often controlled by child jockeys, but allegations of human rights abuses have led to nationwide bans on underage labor in the UAE and Qatar. Children are often favored as jockeys because of their light weight. It has been reported that thousands of children (some reported as young as 2 years old) are trafficked from countries such as Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Pakistan, and Sudan for use as jockeys in the Persian Gulf States' camel racing industry. Many child camel jockeys are seriously injured by falling off the camels. The child jockeys live in camps (called "ousbah") near the racetracks and many are victims of abuse.[ Hundreds of children have been rescued from camel farms in Oman, Qatar, and UAE and taken back to their original homes or kept in shelter homes. Many however, are unable to identify their parents or home communities in South Asia or Sudan. Some countries have issued penalties for those who traffick child camel jockeys and ordered the owners responsibilities for returning the children back to their home countries. However, they report that in many instances the children rescued were those who had been sold away by their own parents in exchange for money or a job abroad. If they were returned, the children would again be sold for the same purposes. Other children did not speak their native languages, or did not know how to live outside the camel farms.
The United Arab Emirates was the first to ban the use of children under 15 as jockeys in camel racing when Sheikh Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan announced the ban on July 29, 2002. In 2009 the UAE paid compensation to 879 former jockeys. The UAE now issues penalties such as jail and banning for those found using children as jockeys. However, international observers have reported violations of this ban. In Qatar, the Emir of Qatar, Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani, banned child jockeys in 2005 and directed that by 2007, all camel races would be directed by robotic jockeys. In Kuwait, it was banned in 2005, due to international pressure. Organizers switched to mechanical robots, fearing allegations with human trafficking: camel owners were accused of buying light weight and smaller frame jockeys from Pakistan and India.

It is a sport that the people of Middle East can certainly be very proud of. If you were ever thinking about going somewhere in Middle East for vacation, you could always go over there and catch a race. It would be very interesting to see how the camels get through the races. So if you are ever looking to do something really exciting and fun, sit down and watch a camel race, you will never forget the experience.

Our trip to Kuwait Camel Racing Club was a delightful and refreshing experience.

Kuwait has a rich history of camel racing. People from all genres of Kuwaiti society participate in the camel racing events. Although the camel racing has been marred in the past with ‘child jockeys issue’, this system has been abolished and now they use robotic jockeys during the event. We read that now-a-days, robots are used instead of child jockeys in camel races, and to experience such a race is once-in-a-life time experience.



We were lucky (thanks to my hubby Jeet who always takes the initiative) to be part of the huge crowd who were there as spectators at the 12th Annual International Camel Race which was held in Kabd,Kuwait(12 Feb-16Feb'2012). It had around 500 participants where robots were the jockeys. The tiny ''riders'' powered by remote control as the camels' owners’ race alongside in their jeeps or SUV's. The robot jockeys are complete with little jockey outfits and hats, and their remote controlled whips slap away at the camels as the owners pursued one of 65 Toyota Land Cruiser prizes. The 6km race was part of a five-day tournament that had around 500 participants.

It was quite an experience to enjoy such a competition.
So, what are your thoughts about these robotic-jockeys and their steeds?

Parimita Barooah Bora is a onetime lecturer and currently she is a stay-at-home mom. Having done her post graduation in English, Education and Travel n Tourism, she taught for few years until her relocation to Kuwait. She likes to share the experiences of her life as a freelance contributor to various newspapers, magazines and websites. Now, as a freelance writer and teaching children in the evenings at home keeps her busy. Member of IWIK Team.
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