11 May 2016

Military and Police Camels

What an excuse for extraordinary photos! In the Middle East, South Asia, and parts of Africa, camels have long served in terrain where a horse could not perform. In fact camels still serve a useful role in strategic army and policing commands.

Probably the most exciting and popular part of India's annual Republic Day parade is the Border Security Forces contingent. You would scarcely believe a 36-piece brass band is included in the camel brigade. True! Even Google did this:[1]
Photo: NPR

Just as incredible is the mounted military pipe band of the Pakistan Desert Rangers. The old Empire has a long echo! In daily life the riders and their steeds are in far less colourful attire, musical instruments safely stowed elsewhere we presume.
Photo: Aamir Qureshi

But wait. Not to be outdone, how about the Royal Oman Police Mounted Pipe Band!?? Purely ceremonial, the band along with its camel cavalry exists to promote cultural traditions. Sultan Qaboos clearly has respect for his educational days at Sandhurst Military Academy and subsequent service in a Scottish regiment of the British Army.
Photo: sickchirpse.com

A photo of the Saudi National Guard eludes me. Qatar has a mounted camel unit, and probably so do several more countries of the same climate and traditions.
Qatar Heritage Police. Photo: www.news.CN

Of course what you are seeing are ceremonial dress uniforms and displays. Everyday routine requires their appearance to be much more suited to their desert surroundings. While some camel units have been replaced by tanks, others have transitioned to public law and order duties with high visibility as tourist attractions.
Jordan Royal Desert Forces. Photo: Warrick Page, NY Times
Photo: camelphotos.com
Photo: BDM
Placing Egypt's mounted police in tourist areas was a smart move. A quiet job, perhaps a bit boring?

Historically, army camels have been known since ancient times, at least from Hannibal's crossing of southern Europe. They were far superior to horses as pack animals in terms of cargo weight and distance coverage. As cavalry, they were equally fast and when couched would serve their riders as gun placements or shade from an unforgiving sun.

Recently a Bactrian camel skelton was uncovered in Austria, believed to be part of the Ottoman army besieging Vienna in 1683.[2]
Photo: BBC
The British became accustomed to using camels in their historic campaigns in Africa, India, and the Middle East. Australian troops formed the first companies.
Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, First World War. Photo: Capt. Douglas G. Pearman
Here is the Imperial Camel Corps's ambulance transport, an amazing photo from http://australiancamels.com/camels-in-war/:

The United States Army imported camels to be pack animals in southwest desert areas, a previous post here. Compare the results to Australia's importation of camels in the same nineteenth century period for similar purposes: Oz now has an explosion of feral camels whereas the American southwest has none. 
US Army Camel Experiment reenactment. Photo: Texas Camel Corps

Interestingly, one Australian police force is bringing camels back for desert patrols after a sixty year hiatus.[3] New South Wales has come full circle.

Camels are familiar to United Nations troops who now serve in missions in countries with demanding equatorial terrain, for instance Sudan and Eritrea.
Photo: http://www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/camels-at-war/

It seems unlikely that the stolid beasts will be completely replaced by tanks.

[1] http://tech.firstpost.com/news-analysis/google-doodle-celebrates-indias-67th-republic-day-with-bsf-camel-contingent-296624.html.
[2] Jonathan Webb, "Intact Ottoman 'War Camel' found in Austrian cellar," BBC News, Science and Environment (http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-32145248).
[3] NSW Police Force, https://www.facebook.com/nswpoliceforce/?fref=nf.

© 2016 Brenda Dougall Merriman

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