Close Encounters of the Camel Kind

You know how sometimes photos resurface on your facebook after being buried in cyberspace for months, even years?  One of mine made a reappearance and has had about 50 likes in the last 24 hours; this is the inspiration for this blog.  I have got hundreds of pictures of camels, have spent an enjoyable few hours looking through my albums so I could share my favourite camel photos – and stories – with you.
So here’s the recipe for a successful camelus photo:
1) Find  camels on a deserted gatch track somwhere near Madinat Zayed during Ramadan
2) Rummage in car and locate some stale arabic bread left over from a desert picnic 3 days before
3) Tempt the “leading lady camel” with a piece

4) Quickly remove the rest of the bread from the bag

5) Quicker than that!  Why is she taking so long???

6) Take a deep breath and turn your back on the camels in the hope of getting a super shot!
Job done! 

Now the photo below can never be repeated.  It’s of a camel herd grazing at the side of a water pool in the Zakher area of Al Ain.  An industrial estate is being constructed nearby and the groundwater in this area is becoming depleted as they use the water for roadbuilding etc.  The “Zakher pools” were a popular spot for offroading and picnics in 2010 but as of 18 months ago they are no more, having dried up.
My first really close encounter with a camel was at the Al Dhafra Camel Festival back in February 2010.  Here’s a link to the Al Gharabia (Western Region) Festival website.  
Hello beautiful!
You’ve been washing your hair with Tresemme again, haven’t you?  FACT: Camels like the smell of Tresemme hair conditioner!  Look at the smile on the face of the bedouin in the background – I’m sure he is thinking “silly white woman”.

How about a kiss?  I’m a prize winning camel you know!

OK so you’re ticklish!

I’ll just rest my head against yours then… 

At the camel festival they have races, sales and camel beauty competitions.    Beauty is determined over a number of factors such as the size of the hump, shape of the head and even how droopy the bottom lip is!  The photo below is not the parking lot, these are the prizes!

Here’s the last one from the ADCF – a modern day bedouin complete with mobile phone stuck to ear!

We often encounter camels when offroading; we try to give them a wide berth, particularly if they have very young calves with them.  Only the lady camels are let out to wander the dunes; with some baby camels commanding prices into millions of dirhams, it’s best to know who the daddy is for sure so that the profits can be shared appropriately.
Here’s a mum with her newborn on Christmas Day 2011.
Now here’s the reason for the high prices – camel races have huge prizes put up by the Sheikhs of the UAE who feel it important for locals to remain in touch with their bedouin roots.  Camel racing takes place between October and April, early in the morning at weekends.  If you live here chances are there’s a camel race track not too far away from you and it’s well worth getting up at silly o’clock to view the spectacle!
When driving in the Al Yaher area, we normally just drop into this bowl without a second thought, thankfully a sixth sense made Neil stop and have a peek over.  The camel herders, who are mainly from Bangladesh and Pakistan, cut the high branches off the native gaff trees for the camels to feast upon.
You might have noticed that camels come in all shapes, sizes and colours.  Characteristics vary from region to region.  The ones in the shot below, taken in April 2012 in the Magrib area to the west of the Liwa crescent, are very large and dark in colour.  This indicates that their bloodline comes from Saudi and they are bred not for racing, but for their high milk and meat yield. 
In the same herd pictured below, you will see some of the camels have a harness on them – these are called camel bras.  Yes really.  These camels have young who are in the process of being weaned.
Still in the Liwa area, here’s a charming shot of a mummy camel and her very young calf taken in February this year.  In the UAE most baby camels are born between October and March, after a 13 month gestation period.  
I love this photo of a bedouin and his camels.  Taken in Madinat Zayed last year, he invited us for tea and biscuits which we enjoyed while sitting and chatting on a carpet outside on his farm.  He was extremely proud of his male camel, which to us looked like a bit of an ugly b****r with a thick neck and rather chunky features, but he was worth half a million dirhams.
Slightly near to Al Ain, I captured this shot near Mafroodah, late in the day. Not the best focussed photo, nevertheless I love the shapes of the shadows.
Camels are the most amazing of creatures, although some say it looks like a horse designed by a committee, Michael Palin has a better theory.  He muses that the camel has been designed by PHD students, where every part of it is developed perfectly to cope with its environment.  It’s not the prettiest of creatures but it is rather cute!
Here’s one such example of how perfectly they are adapted for the desert.  They have two layers of eyelashes which interlock to keep the sand out, essential for long desert crossings.

They can go for long periods without water, but when they find some they stock up!  We found this herd of camels just off the gatch track near Nahel one morning.  The collective nouns for camels are: herd, flock, train and caravan.
Here’s a “train” of camels admiring my lovely Nissan Patrol!
Or maybe this one is more deserved of being called a “train”.  My husband Neil captured this group of camels near the hanging gardens in Buraimi, Oman back in 2007.

Warning:  Camels can be dangerous – a kick can seriously injure or kill.  Please be careful when around them, particularly if they have a young calf.
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