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Published: January 3rd 2015
When we first read about the Al Dhafra Camel Festival in National Geographic, we were taken aback by the breath-taking photos often found in the magazine. The bright colors, the vivid scenes and the unusual sights...we were drawn to the notion of a festival that celebrated the beauty of camels. There were photos of baby camels riding in the back of pick-ups, dark black camels often not found in the USA and other scenes we hoped to encounter in our real life experience at the festival.
But there was one photo I never imagined we would see duplicated in action. This was a photo of a fully grown camel being lifted, by a crane, into a large livestock truck. The National Geographic photos illustrated a camel gracefully dangling in the air, her legs tucked neatly underneath her, as part of the loading process. The photos seemed unreal, fabricated at best. The feat seemed so absurd and obscure that surely it was a one-time, freakish event captured only because there were professional photographers available.
Never did I think we would be walking through a sandstorm, meandering to nowhere inparticular and we would stumble upon this exact sight. We first saw
it on the horizon--a camel dangling in the air. We raced closer, as fast as we could through the moving sand.
Luckily for us, the crew had four more camels to load. We stood ringside and watched the entire process. Sand was flying and camels were bauling, but it was a surprisingly seamless process.
Once the crane operator moved the camel over the truck, a man standing in the truck guided her into position. She was gently lowered into the truck. The process continued until everyone was placed and everyone had space in the truck. They were packed in like sardines, but they had the space they needed to be safe.
The babies were always loaded last and placed where they could be close enough to their mamas so that no one was distressed. The very small babies were lifted by a herdsman and left without any ropes, tethers or halters.
Sometimes a man from the crew rode in the back of the truck with the camels, sometimes it was just camels. The adult camels were always left tethered and harnessed for the journey home. I assume this was to keep them safe--any movement or attempts
to stand could surely result in broken legs and the such.
The hardest part of the process seemed to be catching, tethering and harnessing the unwilling camels. We witnessed some that really put up a fight for the handlers.
It took 4-5 men to complete the task and we never saw one of the men wearing boots or gloves. In fact, we often saw them wrestling these camels in sandals or even shoeless.
Before it was all over, we ended up seeing this crazy scene several times and we never got bored with it.
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