Camel RacingMost everyone is familiar with horse racing. Many people are familiar with greyhound racing. What you probably didn’t know, was there is another animal on the scene that can run with the “big boys” too.

Camel racing is an extremely popular sport in the Middle East, specifically, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates (UAE). You can include neighbors Australia, Mongolia, and Pakistan as well. The sport is generally limited to running the dromedary camel whose name is derived from the Greek verb dramein, “to run”—rather than the Bactrian camel.

Camel racing is as old as history itself. On the Arabian Peninsula, the native habitat of the dromedary, it can be traced to at least the early Islamic period, in the 7th century. Camels are now specifically raised for the track, using carefully controlled methods of breeding, nutrition and training. Special artificial insemination and embryo transfer techniques are even used for crossbreeding select lineages.

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is the center of camel racing in the Middle East, sophisticated training methods, such as working animals on treadmills and in swimming pools, are used to prepare racing camels for competition. A well-bred racing camel with an excellent track record can sell for a high price.

Professional camel racing has become a big betting and tourist attraction. Camels can run at speeds up to 40 mph (65 km/h or 18 m/s) in short sprints and can maintain a speed of 25 mph (40 km/h or 11 m/s;) for an hour.

Camel racing has come to be known as a serious international sport and a great tourist attraction for the area. Events draw participants throughout the world, and winners of races receive handsome prizes, including large cash awards. Traditional costumes and rituals are displayed, and the entire day of racing culminates in celebrations that evoke the customs of local population. The gatherings help keep local customs and folklore alive, particularly for the younger generation, in a region that is otherwise rapidly modernizing.

One controversy that has plagued camel racing is that the camels are often controlled (ridden) by child jockeys. Allegations of human rights abuses have led to nationwide bans on underage labor in the UAE and Qatar. Nowadays, in modern camel racing, the camels are often controlled by remote controlled robotic whips.

Obviously, children are favored as jockeys because of their light weight. It has been reported that thousands of children (some as young as 2 years old) are trafficked from very poor countries such as Pakistan, Sudan, Iran, Afghanistan and Bangladesh to be used as jockeys in the camel racing industry that is located primarily in the Arab States of the Persian Gulf. The estimates are wide ranging, with some reporting anywhere from 5,000 – 40,000 child camel jockeys in the Persian Gulf region.

One of the pressing issues is that many child camel jockeys get seriously injured by falling off the camels. The child jockeys live in “ousbah” (camps) near the racetracks and many are abused. The good news is that hundreds of children have been rescued from camel farms in Qatar, Oman and UAE and taken back to their original homes or placed in shelter homes. Many however, are unable to identify their parents or home communities in South Asia or Sudan.

Some countries are beginning to issue penalties for those who traffic child camel jockeys. They have also ordered the owners responsible for returning the children back to their home countries. However, what is being discovered is that in many instances the children had been sold away by their own parents in exchange for money or even a job abroad. When returned, the children would be sold for the same purposes. Many other children did not even speak their native languages, or did not know how to live or survive the camel farms.

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