How important are camels still?
Updated on 01 April 2018

By: Salamah Ghudayer

The camel, is still very precious to the Emirati, though mainly those of Bedouin heritage. Over the years they were vital for the transport of people and cargo, as well as a source of nutrition, for their medicinal properties, as an investment and for contests. Though the needs we have from the camel have evolved, in some very unexpected ways, it is a creature designed for the desert environment and will forever be a symbol of Arabia.

There are fifty words the Inuit use for snow and even more the Arabs use for camel. Boash, Naga, Qalissa are just a few for camels with different tasks or they are known by their age or breeds: Shaheen, Samh, Sudaniyat are examples, but the most poetic of all; Al Mahaliyat Oryat Al Dar - Mistress of the Land. The term ‘ship of the desert’ though translated from an Arabic term is not a concept of the Emirati or most Bedouin. It’s an invented term from the city people.

Little more than half a century ago camels were still needed for transportation as the first asphalt street in the nation was not laid until 1960. Four-wheel cars were also out of financial reach of most families still at that time, so for the years prior the four-legged vehicle was the only option to cover distances and specially to transport cargo to oases towns. It is a misconception that the people rode on the camel for long distances. It is not the most comfortable animal to ride, so much of the time, people walked and led the camel by a rope. A ‘hoosha’ was a carriage compartment mounted on top of the camel though to provide shade and more comfort for mothers and small children who couldn’t walk long distances, needed to nap or have privacy. The caravans would move in the night and rest in the heat of the day. Along the way, a laying camel provided shelter from sand storms, milk as an easy meal and was often the only drink between wells or when well water was rancid. Unique to camels, they can drink such water and filter the poison unaffected, but create a healthy, safe drink for the humans.

Though camel meat burgers are now in fashion at spots around Dubai, usually it’s meat is served at special occasions among Emirati nationals. Camels are most popular as a food source for their milk. It is usually drunk fresh and warm, though pasteurized and refrigerated bottles can now be bought in the grocery stores.  It has now been used in ice creams and chocolates.

It is true, liquids from the camel were used as medicine for some ailments in the past, yet now researchers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi are doing ground-breaking studies on camel blood. Antibodies from camels are uniquely tiny, possibly due to the animal’s natural immune abilities as it can filter disease and infection from various drinking sources. These nanobodies may help in preventing or curing Breast Cancer and HIV and have already been written about in journals of science and medicine.

Camel racing is another more modern-day way for an Emirati to stay close to the camel. For six months each year; Sept. - Feb, is the camel racing season. Families involved in the sport focus their attention and time to the races which are held every 20 days. They are training with great hopes of winning usually 10-15 camels, all 3-8 years old. Year round however, these pedigree bred camels are pushed and pampered to win in the winter. Blood tests for vitamin and mineral balances are reviewed, diets tweaked and continuous check-ups are done by veterinarian, trainers and owners. Then it is all about the race and pride of winning. Usually the prizes equal the value spent on these animals. Otherwise herds are held out of just a passionate love for an animal that was paramount to life in the past and cannot be simply abandoned. Taking care of a herd is a lifestyle and both men and women are known for doing so. One of the largest herds in the Emirates is owned and cared for by a woman. Sometimes they are simply a pet or cared for with the precision needed of a thoroughbred. Camel racing is a passion for the few who can devote time and finances to their beloved camels who moved with them from the past to the now…and may very well be saving them in the laboratory in the near future.

This article could not have been written without the help of family -  
Mr. Hamed Muadh Ghudayer Al Mazrouei. 

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