Camels: God's Gift to the Bedouin
Camels in Qatar
Ships of the desert, the Bedouin used to say about these ungainly creatures. Ata Alla - God's gift. Evolution has bred them to survive in the harshest of environments, and while they do not have the same turn of speed as their more elegant rival the horse, they can maintain a hefty pace for a far greater distance.
The camel found in Qatar is the dromedary, which, in contrast to its cousin the Bactrian camel, has only one hump. Up close, these creatures are far from ugly, with soft doey eyes and long curly eyelashes give their faces a friendly delicate look which belies their underlying toughness.
Fully grown these creatures can measure more to seven foot in height (from their toes to the tops of their humps) and weigh up to 1600 pounds.
For thousand of years, camels or Jamel in Arabic have been integral to the existence of the Bedouin nomads who inhabited the Arabian peninsula. Indeed the adoption of camels as is likely to have been spurred by the change in climate of the Arabian peninsula around 4000 BC.
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Movie: Camels Across the Desert - Travels in Many Lands
A film crew follows camels across the Sahara desert in the 1920's.
Camels were far more than beasts of burden to the Bedouin. Their urine, which resembles a thick syrup, was collected by children, and used to wash hair and to tan leather. Their dung, which contains little moisture, was used both to start fires and to line babies nappies. Their hair was used for Sadhew weaving, producing clothes and nappies (add link). Camels in Qatar continue to be used for meat, while its milk contains more nutrition than that of a cow.
But it was as a means of transport in the inhospitable desert that these creatures excelled. Those pretty eyelashes are designed to keep out sand and dust, and their small ears are lined with fur for the same reason. Their feet consist of broad leathery pads which when placed on the ground, spread to stop them from sinking into soft sand. The nose can be close at will to minimise dust inhalation.
The kidneys are extremely efficient hence those dry faeces and thick urine. A camel can survive 25 % dehydration, and can draw moisture from vegetation but when they do drink water, they can consume as much as ten litres a minute. Their humps store fat, not water, which the camel draws upon to provide energy in times of hardship. After a period of time without sustenance, the lump will become withered and floppy, but a few days water and food will soon restore it to a more healthy firmness.
Despite their reputation, camels are often good humoured, although they can be unpredictable. The deep groaning noise they make when they rise which sounds like a protesting moan is actually like the grunt of a weight lifter. Yet Bedouin have told me that a camel will never forget bad treatment, and swear blind that it will wait years for a chance of its revenge.
Listen to the sound of a camel:
Although camels are no longer essential for the survival of the Qatari Bedouin, the Bedouin retain their affection for these creatures. Nowadays, however, many of them employ Egyptian or Sudanese herders to look after their beasts rather than do so themselves.
In Qatar you can see camels for sale at the Whole Sale Market, or while enjoying Camel Racing in Shahinayya. Alternatively, just go for a drive in the desert and the chances are you'll see a herd grazing on the sparse grass.
The Start of a Camel Race (movie)
The End of a Camel Race (movie)