Abu Dhabi: A deceptive calm permeates the grounds of the camel beauty competition at the Al Dhafrah Camel Festival. But look into the eyes of owners of Asayal (brown-skinned) and Majahim (black- skinned) camels and you can see the alertness, the anticipation.
They are waiting with bated breath to see if their camels come out victorious in their respective rounds.
The competition is a part of the fifth edition of the festival, organised by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage (Adach). Over 20,000 camels and their 1,300 owners are competing for cash prizes worth Dh40 million and 155 4x4 vehicles.
"The participating camels are very good this year in terms of beauty and breed, which is making the competition much closer than usual," said Awwal Jabal Al Manhal, one of the 15 judges at the competition. "There have been times when we were locked in debates before finally reaching an agreement about a camel's overall score." Given the nature of the competition, and the high stakes for owners, the event's rules and regulations are stricter than ever.
"There have been instances of owners caught trying to enter with non-purebred camels in the past but this year we've been much more vigilant in our registration process so that has been avoided so far," said Beloush Borak Al Mazroui, another judging committee member.
"Also, this year there are fewer participants… possibly due to other festivals also taking place in the region," he added.
Since the festival began, over 50 camels taking part in various categories have won prizes for both Emirati participants and those from other Gulf countries, some of whom are competing for the very first time.
"I'm very happy that I won, especially since this is the first time I participated," said Nasser Rashid Malah Al Mansouri, 19, a student from Al Wathba.
"Others from my family have participated before — not only in past editions but also in the past week — and have also won… we're very proud that our camels are being recognised so much at this year's festival."
His three-year-old female camel, Shawaheen, who was named after her illustrious father Shaheen, scored 92 out of 100 and was awarded the third prize of a Toyota pick-up. To celebrate, Nasser doused her in saffron powder, the traditional way to show an owner's care.
Rules governing contest
1. Camel owners are prohibited from entering the Mazayna (competition) grounds after their camels have been received by the judging committee. If an owner is found on the grounds, he will be disqualified.
2. If evidence of cheating is found, the participating owner will be deprived of his prizes and banned from competing for three years.
3. If the judging committee is unanimous in their decision that a camel is not pure bred, a DNA test will be conducted and no prizes given before the results are announced. To verify lineage, the owner must present the competing camel's parents within 14 days.
4. If the committee has any doubts regarding a camel's age, then an oath must be taken by its owner.
Types of camels
Asayal — Light brown, originally from the UAE and Oman.
Majahim — Black, originally from Najed in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Participating camels can compete in two separate rounds for Shaikhs and local tribes. The ages of the competing camels are as follows:
Hayel - 6 years old; Thanaya - 5 years old; Jathaa - 4 years old; Laqaya - 3 years old; Haqqayiq - 2 years old; Mafrouda - 1 year old.
The scoring pattern
Head and Neck - 25 points; Whiskers - 5; Nose shape - 5; Head size - 5; Ear firmness - 5; Neck length and posture - 5; Upper part - 20; Back length - 5; Back height - 5; Hump shape and position - 5; Whole back length - 5; Front part - 15; Neck width - 5; Shoulder - 5; Foot - 5; Back part - 10; Leg size - 5; Leg straightness - 5; General shape and fitness - 30; Beauty display - 15; Toe-parting length - 5; Overall size - 5; Physical health and hair shine - 5.