x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

The Instant Expert: camels, the ships of the desert

Float through any social event with M's fast facts. This week, Rick Arthur shares his newfound knowledge of that wonderful beast the camel, which enjoys a rich Arab heritage.

THE BASICS, PART ONE The camel, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is a "large, long-necked ungulate mammal of arid country, with long slender legs, broad cushioned feet, and either one or two humps on the back".

THE BASICS, PART TWO From the genus Camelus, family Camelidae, there actually are two species of camels: the dromedary or Arabian camel, which has one hump, and the Bactrian camel, which has two humps. Both are working animals that provide milk and meat.

QUITE THE HISTORY War, trade, civilisation - all rode the camel's hump. The beast carried spices, incense, gold, ivory and silk along ancient trade routes from Asia and Africa across the Arabian Peninsula. And Bedouin warriors rode the dromedary into battle in the Muslim armies that conquered the Byzantine and Persian empires in the seventh century.

THE BIOLOGY Camels do not store water in their humps, but their efficient fat metabolisation lets them go long periods without drinking. They can withstand body temperature changes that would kill most other animals.

AH, THE SPORT OF IT Professional camel racing has long been popular in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, Oman, India, Pakistan, Australia and Mongolia. The UAE was the first to ban the use of children under 15 as jockeys, in 2002. The sport fascinatingly now deploys robots.

THE BIG FESTIVALS Sorry, you just missed it, but the Al Dhafrah Festival in the UAE's Western Region features the world's major camel beauty competition. In the annual event last month, 20,000 camels vied for prizes worth Dh35 million. And this past week, more than 10,000 camels competed in a 4km race, beauty contests and an auction at the Sheikh Zayed Camel Race Grand Prix Festival in Al Wathba. Prizes totalling Dh30mn went to winners of 155 races.

THE NAME GAME Ali Al Saloom, M magazine's advice columnist, wrote in these pages last year that it is common for camels to be given names. "Ibil" and "Hijen" are the most common names for both genders. Other popular names reference male camels' procreative powers ("Al Fahl") and large size ("Addawser"); female names often note whether the beast has mated or given birth. And there are many names that describe how a camel drinks water.

YUM-YUM, PART ONE Camel milk is essentially a wonder food, although its marketing has a way to go to with, say, uninitiated Westerners. It is full of vitamins, minerals, proteins and immunoglobulins, and is lower in fat and cholesterol than cow's milk. The Instant Expert, intent on shedding his Ugly American image, vows to buy some on his next trip to LuLu.

YUM-YUM, PART TWO Camel meat has no cholesterol and the fat is concentrated almost entirely in the hump, which is considered a delicacy. Other preferred parts are the brisket, the ribs and the loin. As the meat can be dry, however, the Abu Dhabi Officers' Club, for one, serves a camel burger with beef or lamb fat mixed in, improving texture and taste.

GO FOR A RIDE! There are opportunities galore, especially at desert resorts and safaris to ride a camel in the UAE. Most camels trained for such purposes are docile and sweet. Give it a try - the Instant Expert did recently, and admiring the magnificent sand dunes from atop a gently undulating "ship of the desert" was sublime.


Six other noted camels

THE BAND The English progressive rock band Camel formed in 1971 and, except for a seven-year hiatus beginning in 1984, have released studio and live recordings steadily.

THE CIGARETTE The US company RJ Reynolds Tobacco released the Camel brand of cigarettes, noted for their Turkish tobacco, in 1913. The cartoon character Joe Camel was discontinued in 1997 and Camel paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits accusing them of using the character to market smoking to children.

THE COLOUR Camel is a colour that - duh - resembles the colour of the hair of a camel. The first recorded use in English was in 1916.

THE FIGURE SKATING SPIN The camel is one of the three basic figure skating spins. In it, the free leg is extended backwards with the knee held above hip level.

THE MASCOT A fierce camel is the mascot of the sport teams at Connecticut College, a private liberal arts college in New London, Connecticut, in the north-east US.

THE RIVER The River Camel in Cornwall, UK rises on the edge of Bodmin Moor and issues into the Celtic Sea. The name comes from Cornish for "the crooked one".