Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 July 2019

Take a moment to appreciate the ancient ships of the desert

On World Camel Day this weekend, these hardy creatures deserve to be honoured

Jockeys compete in a camel race at Sweihan racecourse in Al Ain. Karim Sahib / AFP
Jockeys compete in a camel race at Sweihan racecourse in Al Ain. Karim Sahib / AFP

They are the ships of the desert, helping nomadic Bedouin survive for centuries. Once the only means to cross vast tracts of the Empty Quarter in blistering heat, camels have long sustained Emiratis with their powers of endurance, milk and meat. Today, they are more likely to inspire poetry or be admired for their beauty, swapping hands for as much as Dh10 million. But as World Camel Day takes place on Saturday, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on how intrinsic the graceful dromedary is to the UAE’s heritage. Indeed, we are still making discoveries about these powerful beasts, with recent tests revealing camel milk could help the fight against bowel cancer.

We might rarely encounter them – indeed, most sightings tend to be limited to tourist attractions and desert safaris, where even those who live here get a thrill from a few minutes’ ride perched on high. And on the rare occasions a runaway camel is glimpsed in urban conurbations, it usually sparks a flurry of excitable posts and videos on social media. It takes an extra special effort to get up close to one of these special creatures by visiting one of the many racetracks dotted around the country, or by attending events like the annual Sheikh Zayed Heritage Festival or the Al Dhafra Festival, where the most beautiful specimens are paraded and garlanded with cash prizes. In this modern era, camels are no longer an essential part of survival; they largely serve as a reminder of the hardships of times past. In our urbanised lives, surrounded by skyscrapers, it is easy to forget the challenges of a mere generation or two ago. But it is worth reminding ourselves by stepping out of our comfortable lives every now and again and venturing outside cities to get a taste of a more rural life. The camels of yesteryear might have been replaced by 4x4s but there is still plenty of love for these hardy creatures, who are as integral to the fabric of Emirati life as the palm tree and the falcon.

Updated: June 20, 2019 07:05 PM

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