The month-long King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival includes the world’s biggest camel beauty contest. Image Credit: Sami Tokhais

Riyadh: Organisers of the King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival are planning to hold an international forum that would bring together people with interests in camels to reflect on ways to generate greater attention, better care and more business about the desert animals.

“A major plan to build on the success of the current King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival is to launch a forum that would promote research about camels and bring together people from across the world to exchange views about them,” Dr Fahad Bin Abdullah Al Samawi, the Secretary General of the Riyadh-based King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (Darah) and the general supervisor of the festival, said.

“The forum will enable the participants to explore new ideas about how to take care of camels in a better way. It will be an opportunity for camel experts to exchange views on ways that would benefit camel owners, the economy and tourism. They can tell owners about economic and health benefits of camel milk.”

Al Samawi said the main goal of the forum will be raise awareness about importance of camels like horses. “Horses are our competitors worldwide and our forum will help generate people’s interest in camels and allow us to fulfil our ambition of receiving the same attention, care and business as horses,” he said.

Al Samawi added that the success of this year’s King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival being held under the aegis of Darah [King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives], outside Riyadh has made officials start planning for the next edition of the festival.

Al Samawi said: “We have started discussions about holding the next year’s festival on a larger scale and introducing new features for people from various walks of life. “We want to develop the infrastructure for the festival and set up a camel clinic and a camel market. We want to make it a memorable and fun-filled festival to attract more families and strengthen bonds with the camel owners and tell them about the history and heritage of Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula.”

With 1.4 million camels in country, Saudi Arabia ranks third in the Arab world, behind Somalia with 7.1 million camels and Sudan with 4.8 million.

According to the figures available at the festival there are around 17 million camels in the Arab countries while total camel population across the world is around 28 million.

Al Samawi said that camels have always been an integral part of Saudi Arabia and have played a highly significant role in people’s everyday lives.

“In the 1940s, several people predicted that camels would disappear from Saudi Arabia following introduction of cars and roads in the country,” he said. “Actually, we now have more camels than before and it is because of our culture and habits. People who own camels are proud of them and do not miss an opportunity to show them off. Our society has undergone various changes, but people’s love for camels has not changed.”

The King Abdul Aziz Camel Festival was started because of people’s love for the animal in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf region.

“The festival is held at a historic site where three major routes of camels in Saudi Arabia meet. This site has made it easier for camel owners to bring their camels to the site on foot since they are not allowed to transport them in vehicles.”

The monthlong festival includes the world’s biggest camel beauty contest. “We have various categories to allow different segments of the society to participate in it. This year as many as 30,256 camels were registered by 1,436 owners. There were 270 awards worth 114. 6 million Saudi riyals for them.

Saudis topped the list with 1,153 participants, followed by Qataris with 130, Kuwaitis with 103 and Emiratis with 50

Al Samawi said that the rules for various competitions were very rigorous and every camel underwent a close scrutiny.

“For us, it is like the Olympics where cheating is not allowed under any circumstances. We discovered certain cases where owners injected silicon into their camels or dyed the camels’ hair to enhance their features. They were all disqualified. We have a committee that takes care of all the details when an owner submits his application to take part in the festival. The 50 judges, who have vast expertise, decide the winners in each category,” he said.