05 April 2015


Camel racing is BIG in many countries, notably the Middle East. Probably the most intensive business and the highest stakes are in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Camel farms are an industry. Huge prize money is awarded to owners of the swiftest animals. A few years ago, some countries bowed to human rights concerns and stopped the practice of using small children as jockeys. Now, it's mechanical robots that ride the camels.

Lars Plougmann, Wikipedia.org
Camels and owners had to re-train to adjust to the change. The tiny, lightweight things wear jockey hats and racing colours to appear less freakish to the camels. Owners drive in their SUVs beside the track, monitoring the camels' speed and heart rates. They can move the reins and a whip with two-way radio controls to the robots' little hinged arms. Weird. I wonder how many SUV pileups they have. Camels are fast!

 Other countries and towns around the world have adopted less intense versions of racing, with adult riders. Some have token prize money, some have annual cups. Often the races are held in conjunction with a local festival. More often than not, amateurs are welcome to try their skills from a stable of camels at hand.

Australia 2009
It's not surprising that Australia seems to have the most fun with them. Alice Springs holds the annual Lasseter's Camel Cup in July, only one of many venues in that country. I quote from their website:
"The family and fundraiser event is well known for its unpredictable and very entertaining camels as well as the brave and crazy riders. ... Racing them can prove a nightmare for riders and handlers but fantastic viewing for spectators."[1]

Alice Springs 2012
More surprising is the enthusiastic American adoption by Virginia City, Nevada for several days in September. Camels were not unknown there in the nineteenth century as pack animals. Today, experienced riders and amateurs alike participate. Last-minute coaching advice:
He does his best to talk us all out of it, telling us we can back out at anytime, that is until the chute gate opens, then you better just hang on. He warns riders of the hazards of climbing about seven feet atop the beasts of burden that weigh anywhere between 900 to 1,700 pounds. “I have some of the best camels in the country, but they’re still animals,” he told us one year. “The camels will have more control than you will, and they have an attitude of their own. We don’t need any wusses here.”[2]

Pushkar, Rajasthan
Kind of reminds me of Pushkar where our tour leader had once been bullied co-opted into the free-for-all camel race open to all comers. He tells me this news after the day's races are over. Coulda, woulda, shoulda. Seriously.

[1] "About the Cup," Lasseter's Camel Cup, http://www.camelcup.com.au/.
[2] Teri Vance, "Teri's Notebook: No joking matter, I'm in the camel race," Nevada Appeal (http://www.nevadaappeal.com/news/local/12801274-113/races-camel-friday-camels : accessed 6 September 2014).

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