17 December, 2009

An Evening with Camels in Mukalla

Camels. In Australia they are brutally butchered; not for their meat; not for their skins; but simply because they are considered 'feral', 'pests' and a 'problem'. The recent 'culling' of camels in Australia's Northern Territory cost its government about 50,000$; enough money to have dug boreholes for the camels which roam from place to place in search of water. The one humped, Arabian Camels were introduced to the mainly arid Australia, for transport, in the mid 18th Century; but since then, they have rapidly been increasing in numbers. As Australians have no other use for them, they have repeatedly reduced the population of camels, by cruelly shooting them either form planes in the air, or by chasing them on moving vehicles. How barbaric. Had some poor, developing country been doing that to marauding lions or elephants - how would Australians have felt?

Camels should never have been taken to Australia; as people there have no liking for or understanding of the amazing animals. Had Australians understood this wonderful creature, they would have known how to benefit from it; they would have known how to use it; and they would have known how to respect it. Benefit from it; use it; and respect and value it as we do here in Hadhramaut

African elephants, which I have many times seen at very close range - have always greatly awed and amazed me; and so have camels. A few days ago, I spent an evening with these extraordinary animals. Just a few meters from the center of Al Mukalla, is  a market for camels:

Most people wrongly believe that, as camels mainly live in very arid, hot places, the humps that they have is for storing water. The humps are actually a reservoir of fat; it helps in providing nutrients when needed and in a way helps in controlling heat over the animal's body.
Camels are born without humps; the hump develops as the camel grows . And as camels use the fat within the humps when they have less food, the hump's size reduces. Or it increases when the camel has more food. Camels can weigh op to 700 kilograms and can grow up to slightly over 2 meters. They gestate for 11 months; usually giving birth to 1 calf at a time. The young reach adulthood at between 5 to 7 years. A normal life span for a camel is 40 years.
A camel's hump is a giant mound of fat. In a healthy, well-fed camel, the hump can weigh as much as 35 kilograms. The hump allows a camel to survive an extremely long time without food, if need be.
Camels are cud-chewers. Its mouth is very sturdy enabling it to chew dry, thorny desert plants. Its eyelashes have an interlocking system, of three eye-lids, which automatically shut when necessary; like during sand storms. The first two eye-lids have long eye lashes, which keep out sand; the third eye-lid is transparent and blinks side ways like car wipers, and is transparent allowing camels to see even when their eyes are closed. Its nostrils are shaped to protect it from dust and to trap water vapor and return the vapor to the body during respiration. The ears too, are shaped to protect it from dust and sand. Camels release white salivary stuff when they feel threatened; as the above camel is doing when I got too close to it while taking these photos.
A camel's neck is long. This enables it to reach leaves and thorns which are high on trees. Its thick, hairy coat reflects sunlight and insulates it from intense desert heat or keeps it warm when it gets cold. Camels are unique: they can survive in extreme temperatures, both hot and cold. Their maintenance is cheap and easy as they can browse and eat a wide range of plant species; and they are very resistant to diseases.
Camels can survive without water or food; depending on the heat and what luggage it is carrying, a camel can survive for up to 10 days without food or water. If it is cool, it can live even longer without water. In the Sahara, they can go all winter without water.
Camels do not only live in some of the most desolate and inhospitable places on Earth; they thrive there. Where most large animals would perish, camels survive. They are able to do this by their amazing body mechanism and their incredible ability to efficiently use the available resources there; and they are omnivorous and able to eat a most varied type of foods.  
Docile and very good when treated well; camels easily become angry and stubborn when ill treated. No other animal is as endearing to Arabs as the camel; it is said that there are about 160 words for 'camel' in the Arabic language. To most Bedouins, camels are a symbol of wealth and strength.
Here, camel meat is cherished; and so is its milk. Both of which, especially its milk - are considered medicinal. Even a camel's urine is used as medicine for treating hepatitis, cancer, skin diseases, toothache, autism and many other diseases. The urine is also used as an antiseptic. I know for a fact, that women who have used camel urine to wash their hair, their hairs became longer, lighter and more lustrous.
Did you know that camel meat has no fat or cholesterol? As the fat is concentrated on a camel's hump, its meat is lean and better for us than beef and much better than pork. And did you know that camel's milk is closer to human milk than cow's milk and thus better for us? It does not curdle. Is more easily digestible than cow's milk. It has three times the amount of vitamin C than cow's milk; is rich in B vitamins and iron.  And it also contains anti-bodies and insulin which can fight diseases.
Able to travel for up to 50 kilometers per day in the harsh, hot deserts; camels have long legs which keep it high from the hot sand. Its feet, with broader hooves than that of horses, has two toes - underneath which are fatty balls of leathery pads or 'cushions' which enable it to walk easily on sands. Observe closely at the way camels walk: of all animals, only cats and giraffes are known to walk in the same way - at the same time moving both front and back legs on one side of the body and then again at the same time, moving the other legs on the other side.
Camels are used in all Middle Eastern countries and in many parts of Asia. But, surprisingly, camels' predecessors are from the Western Hemisphere and they are closely related to llamas, alpacas and vicunas of South America. Did you know that, today, of all people - Somalis, both in Somalia and in Ethiopia, have more camels, per capita, than any other people?
And did you know that, although Arabs use both very well; and love and value both very much, horses detest the smell of camels? In wars, when camels are used against horses - horses are known to become hard to control; and many times they run away from charging camels.

All old great Middle Eastern civilizations, very much depended on camels. The Arabs, the Assyrians, the Persians and the Nabateans all used camels. And so did the Muslim armies that conquered the then super-powers: the Byzantine and the Persian empires in the 7th AD. Whenever one thinks of the Great Prophets of old, camels come to mind. The camel is mentioned several times in the Holly Bible. It is eloquently mentioned in Quran Al Kareem: Do they not look at the Camels, how they are made? ........." ~ Surat al-Ghashiya ~ 17-21.

No other people respect, cherish and value camels as Arabs and Muslims do. No other animal species is as important here as is the camel. It has served us very well before. Is still serving us; especially the people of Hadhramaut. And will undoubtedly continue to serve us always. With the present, fast World's changing climate and as quick as food prices rise - as environmentally friendly a mode of transport as it is; as beneficial a dietary as it is; and as versatile, sustainable and adaptive as it is, the Camel will be a most important part of life here, for as long as it and humans exist.