JAIPUR, India–Help In Suffering on March 13, 2011 opened a new Camel Rescue Centre at Bassi, on the outskirts of Jaipur––apparently the first facility built specifically to help camels in humane movement history, and only the second dedicated camel hospital in the world.
The first was the Dubai Camel Hospital, opened in 1990 by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum to treat the 3,000 racing and dairy camels “belonging to the Maktoum family and their friends and relatives,” wrote BBC News science reporter Anna-Marie Lever in January 2009.
By then, after almost 20 years in service, the Dubai Camel Hospital workload had expanded to include treating “4,000 breeding camels, 2,000 racing camels, and doing research into common afflictions,” founding veterinarian Jahangir Akbar told Zac Sharpe of the Dubai periodical Al Shindagah. “Young camels tend to suffer from sore shins and damaged knee joints; older camels are admitted for lameness and arthritis,” Akbar said.
Noted Lever, “Respiratory complaints caused by infection are also common, as are gastric problems, because trainers push carbohydrate down their camels in an attempt to give them more energy to race, leading to acidosis.”
Help In Suffering sees mostly cart-pulling camels, treating them from mobile units before the completion of the Camel Rescue Centre. Much of the work of the Help In Suffering Camel Project involves undoing the harm done to working camels by folk remedies, and educating the camel drivers against using them, regardless of tradition.
“For example,” explains the Help In Suffering Camel Project web site, “a common method of treating throat and cold infections, or lameness, has been to inflict a deep burn by means of an iron rod applied to the skin of the affected area,” which “is not only useless but can threaten the life of the camel.”
The Camel Project team also sees a lot of colic, “commonly caused by lack of drinking water, poor quality fodder mixed with large amounts of sand, or by intestinal parasites. Skin conditions caused by ticks and mites are common,” says the web site. More difficult afflictions to treat include tryapanosomiasis, caused by a blood parasite, and lameness and foot injuries. Foot and leg problems are especially common when camels, who have soft padded feet rather than hooves, are worked on paved roads.
The most frequent problem that the Camel Project sees, however, is that “Camels have traditionally been controlled in India by wooden nose pegs inserted through the external nares, to which the reins are attached,” the web site explains and illustrates. “Friction caused by the nose peg results in suppurating, non-healing wounds which attract flies, becoming infested with maggots. Parts of the nose and face can then be eaten away.” Help In Suffering promotes the use of smooth plastic nose pegs instead, and of longer pegs, to prevent the peg ends from chafing the camels’ noses. “In March 2002, the first month of the Camel Project,” records the web site, “26.6% of 45 camels treated had nose peg injuries. In March 2005 this had been reduced to 13.5% of 223 camels treated.”
The greatest part of the Camel Project workload is preventive. The first 37,350 treatments included deworming 15,500 camels, and affixing 11,000 reflectors on camel carts to keep motor vehicles from colliding with them at night.
Though Help In Suffering is the only Indian humane society with a full-time camel clinic, many others aid camels when they can. There are only about 170 camels in Hyderabad, Blue Cross of Hyderabad founder Amala Akkineni told S. Sandeep Kumar of The Hindu in October 2008, but the Blue Cross of Hyderabad nonetheless conducts camel health camps to mark World Animal Day, treating about 30 camels per year.
More often, Indian humane societies pursue litigation to confiscate camels from Muslims who buy them for sacrifice at the Feast of Atonement. Results are mixed, depending on the sympathies of the local courts and the extent of violation of animal welfare laws documented by the societies. Each year several dozen camels are rescued, while as many as 100 are slaughtered despite legal appeals filed on their behalf.
Working from a mobile unit, ranging as far as 30 miles from Jaipur, veterinarian Devi Shankar Rajoria and British volunteer vets Richard and Emma Morris started the Help In Suffering Camel Project in June 2001. Now headed by Pradeep Singhal, DMV, the Camel project is funded by Animaux Secours of France, the Marchig Trust of Swtizerland, and the Carpenter Trust of Britain.
The Camel Rescue Centre was funded by a second Swiss organization, the ELSU Foundation.
The involvement of Animaux Secours, the Marchig Trust, the Carpenter Trust, and the ELSU Foundation on behalf of camels contrasts with the perspective expressed by Brooke Hospital for Animals publicist Kirsty Whitelock in February 2011, after Egyptian Society of Animal Friends president Ahmed al Sherbiny and volunteer Dina Zulfkiar objected that camels were not included in the Brooke fodder distribution to working animals near the Giza pyramids. The Brooke mobilized to feed horses, mules, and donkeys after becoming aware that dozens had allegedly starved to death, along with at least three camels, when the uprising that deposed former dictator Hosni Mubarak halted tourism to Egypt, leaving many working animal keepers withod means to buy fodder.
“The Brooke’s efforts are focused on working horses, donkeys and mules,” Whitlock said, from London. “Whilst we recognize that camels are in need too, our mission is to help equines.”
Humane Society International veterinarian Hassan Al Maraghy eventually arranged for the camels to be fed.
Founded in 1923 by self-taught homeopathic veterinarian Kate Hosali and her daughter Nina, who were horrified by the cruelty they had seen during a two-year trek across North Africa, the Society for Protection of Animals in North Africa has always treated camels–but quietly. Now working in 30 nations, most of which have working camels, SPANA mentioned camels just twice in its 2008 annual report, and not at all in the 2009 annual report. Of the 691,000 animals SPCA treated in 2008-2009, 533,000 were equines. Camels were lumped together with dogs, cats, cattle, sheep, goats and “others,” as animals of presumed lesser interest to donors.
Still heavily used
Despite the apparent indifference of most major international animal charities toward camels, only equines are used more for work in Asia and Africa.
Globally, United Nations Food & Agricultural Organization figures show 59 million horses in domestication, 44 million donkeys, and 11 million donkeys, compared to 25.4 million camels. But there are 21.5 million domesticated camels in Africa, about equally distributed between North Africa and East Africa, compared to just 18.9 million donkeys, who are the most abundant equines.
In addition to camels, including dromedaries, about 7.8 million other camelids are in human service, according to FAO data.
Most of these are llamas and alpacas used for transportation, meat, and fiber production in the Andean regions of South America.
Camels have fallen into disfavor in many places where they were formerly used.
“The grunting camels used for 35 years to ferry salt from Mali’s northern mines to Timbuktu are gone,” Washington Post staff writer Karin Brulliard reported in September 2009. Traders are instead making the 400-mile journey by truck, Brullard explained, cutting the travel time from three weeks to two days, and increasing the number of trips a salt trader can make from two a year, limited by the seasonal availability of fodder along the route, to two per month.
Thus the working camel population has substantially fallen. The decrease was especially marked in Asia from 1994 to 2004, according to the FAO, which began tracking camel numbers in 1960. Camel use fell 38% in India, and 20% across Asia as a whole.
But the Asian working camel population is again growing, despite mechanization. There were 300,000 more working camels in Asia in 2009 than in 2004, apparently because rising affluence in remote parts of China, Mongolia, Pakistan, and Central Asia has allowed people who never before could afford working animals to buy camels.
Along with vastly greater and faster growing populations of sheep, goats, and cattle, domesticated camels and equines compete for fodder with wild Asian camels. From 600,000 to 1.4 million Bactrian camels are in captivity, according to various estimates, but no more than 850 remain in the wild, half of them persisting in a nature reserve created from a former nuclear test area in the Lop Nur region of western Xinjiang province, China, while the rest are in Mongolia.
Most Bactrian camel conservation schemes focus on expanding the camel meat industry, which has traditionally existed mainly to make use of surplus and disabled working camels. “We need to provide an income for Mongolian herders. Only in this way can we protect the grasslands,” Inner Mongolian camel conservationist Namujileicemu [who uses only one name] told Reuters in 2008.
Would-be Mongolian camel meat exporters may have to compete with Australians, however. A succession of Australian governments have explored a variety of schemes to slaughter the estimated one million feral camels roaming the Outback for meat. Though a sizeable Australian camel meat trade has yet to develop, Australian protocols for exporting live animals to slaughter in eight Middle Eastern and North African “cover cattle, sheep, and goats for slaughter and breeding, as well as horses and camels,” acknowledged then-Australian agriculture Peter McGauran in May 2007, after extending the arrangements to Libya.
Currently Australian camels are culled from aircraft. The remains are either left to lie, collected for rendering, or sold to farms that produce crocodile leather.
Despite the lack of evident demand for camel meat, Sri Lankan deputy minister of livestock H.R. Mithrapala announced a government plan to raise camels for milk and meat, ostensibly for sale to Arab tourists. Linked to a parallel plan to raise ostrichs, the actual market appears to be a pyramid scheme speculating in breeding stock.
Horses are believed to have been domesticated about 5,000 years ago in the Ponto-Caspian steppe region, stretching from Romania through Russia to Kazakhstan, according to genetic data published in Science in 2009 by Arne Ludwig of the Leibniz Institute for Zoological Studies in Berlin.
A bone believed to be from a wild dromedary has been recovered from a 9,000-year-old human settlement site in Yemen.
Evidence that Bactrian camels were domesticated by about 4,600 years ago has been found at Shar-I Sokhta, Iran.
Thus humans have apparently kept camels for almost as long as horses, perhaps longer. Horses during this time have risen to companion animal status in much of the world. But “Camels do not have same appeal in the mind of public as our companion dogs and cats,” observes Zeba Jawaid, managing editor of the Pakistani news magazine SouthAsia.
Possibly this is in part because the regions where camels are most used are also historically impoverished, with little humane activity–but some have had humane organizations for as long as anywhere.
A larger issue may be that most of the places where camels are still used are predominantly Islamic. Camels figure prominently in both the Q’ran and the Hadiths, in which Mohammed’s disciples recite the sayings of Mohammed, but while Mohammed urged kind treatment of animals as a general principle, he said little on specific behalf of camels. Moreover, far more passages record Moham-med sacrificing camels, ordering that camels be slaughtered for meat, racing camels, and urging a companion’s tired camel to go faster than document concern for camel welfare.
Just one Hadith appears to disapprove of overdriving camels. In Bukhari 2:26:731 Ibn Abbas recalls that, “I proceeded along with the Prophet on the day of Arafat. The Prophet heard a great hue and cry and the beating of camels behind him. So he beckoned to the people with his lash, ‘O people! Be quiet. Hastening is not a sign of righteousness.” As Mohammed himself was apparently riding a camel and carrying a lash, his objection was evidently to driving the camels aggressively, not to the use of the lash per se.
One other Hadith praises companions who attend camels, but in the context that the camels were subsequently used to fetch water for humans. Recalled Anas in Bukhari 4:52:140, “We were with the Prophet and the only shade one could have was the shade made by one’s own garment. Those who fasted did not do any work and those who did not fast served the camels and brought the water on them and treated the sick and (wounded). So, the Prophet said, “Today, those who were not fasting took the reward.”
Another Hadith, Bukhari 7:62:19, implies that learning to ride and care for camels teaches kind and careful behavior. Recalled Abu Huraira, “The Prophet said, ‘The best women are the riders of the camels and the righteous among the women of Quraish. They are the kindest women to their children in their childhood and the more careful women of the property of their husbands.'”
Camels sometimes spit at humans to whom they take a dislike, and can be balky and dangerous–but relative to total use, camels kill and injure far fewer of their drivers, riders, and caretakers than horses.
As with donkeys, who are numerically probably the most abused working animals worldwide, camels may be mistreated and overlooked chiefly because of their hardihood, patience, and stoicism.
Plaint of the Camel
New York stockbroker and author of children’s verses Charles Carryl, 1841-1920, had no known direct acquaintance with camels. He was known as a humanitarian chiefly through familial associations. Carryl’s father-in-law, Apollos Russell Wetmore, founded the New York Juvenile Asylum in 1865 and was was an acquaintance of American SPCA founder Henry Bergh. Carryl’s son Guy Wetmore Carryl, was a poet who wrote at times on animal subjects. But Charles Carryl himself in 1884 wrote The Plaint of the Camel, mentioning a litany of common camel welfare issues:
…there’s never a question
About my digestion-
Anything does for me!
…no one supposes
A poor Camel dozes-
Any place does for me!
Lambs are inclosed where it’s never exposed,
Coops are constructed for hens;
Kittens are treated to houses well heated,
And pigs are protected by pens.
But a Camel comes handy
Wherever it’s sandy-
Anywhere does for me!
People would laugh if you rode a giraffe
Or mounted the back of an ox;
It’s nobody’s habit to ride on a rabbit
Or try to bestraddle a fox.
But as for a Camel, he’s
Ridden by families-
Any load does for me!
From Carryl’s day to this, for most camels in most of the world, The Plaint of the Camel is still the status quo.