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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 13 November 2018

Meet Batoola the camel, champion by name and by nature

Three-year-old crowned most beautiful beast at Al Dhafra

Batoola the three-year-old old Emirati camel was crowned beauty queen and taken a victory parade at the Al Dhafra Festival. Satish Kumar for The National
Batoola the three-year-old old Emirati camel was crowned beauty queen and taken a victory parade at the Al Dhafra Festival. Satish Kumar for The National

Batoola means champion and on Sunday, Batoola the camel was a champion of beauty.

Batoola was crowned queen of three-year-old Emirati camels on Sunday at Al Dhafra Festival near Madinat Zayed.

With an estimated 15,000 competing camels, it is the biggest camel beauty competition in the Emirates and a win at Al Dhafra can translate into sales worth millions.

Salem Al Mazrouei, 18, watched Batoola from the stands, making observations that showed that he was no amateur. He is part of the first generation that have grown up at state-sponsored camel beauty contests like Al Dhafra, now in its 11th year. Salem had come to support his relative's camel, Batoola, and his uncle’s camel, Al Haila. Al Haila means gargantuan.

Salem, a pupil at Adnoc School in Ruwais, kept poetry about Batoola on his phone. “It means, ‘if anyone wants to fight, come to Batoola’s pen and we will show them what she will do’,” he said. It’s not unusual for beautiful camels to have poetry written in their honour, and Batoola is one of the best.

His family did not want Batoola and Al Haila to compete against each other. Batoola, who was bought for Dh400,000 and valued at more than Dh1.2million, was entered in the camel equivalent of the Major League while Al Haila, who was bought for Dh800,000, was entered in the minors. They both won.

Judging took place in grandstands in the desert south of Medinat Zayed. It lasted all day. Sunday featured five competitions for majahim beauty camels. A local and international competition for those bought, a local and international competition for camels bred and best overall. This ensures that the winner is not simply the one who has the most cash.

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In the back row, Salem’s cousin Khalaf Al Mazrouei, 18, a student at Adnoc School, had already penned poetry in Batoola’s honour that he planned to recite at a melodic poetry competition that night. “Her height, her size. Her nose, her ears. Oh, her full cheeks.”

He’d written it in two hours, three days earlier.

“I don’t just sing about camels,” he added. “If I see a beautiful girl, I can sing about a beautiful girl. I sing about beauty.”

Al Dhafra, 17, Dec, 2017: Visitors  at the Al Dhafra Festival in UAE  . Satish Kumar for the National/ Story by Anna
Visitors at the Al Dhafra Festival look on as hundreds of camels are assembled. Satish Kumar for The National

It was not just a big day for fans of Batoola but also for those strategising for the most prestigious competition: best herd. Those looking to build the best herd of 50 camels were there to watch their competition and, perhaps, to buy. Four days into the festival, there was still speculation over who would enter the competition.

Spectators spent the day peering at camels through binoculars, for even the most astute owner can have trouble distinguishing his camel amongst the herd at a great distance.

“See these men, they are surveying,” explained Ali Al Mazrouei, an organiser who spend much of the day trying to stop people from entering the VIP section. “If you want to go to war, you cannot go without a survey. Because I’m a military pilot, I know. When never fly without looking into meteorology, for example, and even the meteorology can play with the camel’s health.”

Men passed time by reading a local magazine, called Camel, as young men brought them spiced coffee. “They are reading the news more than you think,” said Mr Al Mazrouei. “Especially the camel news.”

Amongst them was Salem Al Mansoori, 36, a police officer from Al Wathbah who had entered a camel “The Slim” in the asayel beauty competition of Omani race camels. “Why participate? For a Nissan Patrol. The first gets a Nissan Patrol, the second a Nissan pick-up.”

As the sun set and excitement grew, young boys slipped between the gates into VIP section, running as far as their legs could take them before they were caught and carried back out. A young boy raised his voice in song, and the crowd joined in, throwing their ghutras in the air and singing, “This year we will take the banner”.

When Batoola was declared the victor, boys and men rushed down to the gates to greet her, bursting into dance. Others stood back and pulled out mobile phones. Deals were being made, many worth millions.

Batoola’s value was about to go up. After fans danced for an hour in front of the pens, they eventually opened and the victors began to parade Batoola down the dusty track known as Millions Street, followed by a convoy of fans.

“Of course there will be party tonight,” said Salem Al Mazrouei. “You’re coming, aren’t you?”