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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Qatar Camels

A camel bares its teeth and groans“Up,up,” shouted the men at us, forcing a camel to its knees and gesturing at its back. The camel didn’t seem very pleased, baring its teeth and making a rather impolite noise (at least it didn’t spit), but one of our number was brave (or stupid) enough to get on its back.

The Camel Racing Track

A rider and his camelsWe were at the camel racing track, located in the middle of the Qatar desert. (Don’t let this put you off – nothing is very far away in Qatar!) Although the racing season is still a few weeks away, nobody seemed to mind us photographing and videoing the camels and generally sticking our noses around. We even drove onto the road that follows the track round, chasing, photographing and videoing the running camels and exchanging waves with their riders.

We had a fantastic afternoon wandering around the camel track, and wondered if we could have poked around so freely if there had been a race on. The people we met couldn’t have been more friendly, and were happy to be photographed and to answer our questions, even waving us into compounds to look around – and have a ride!

The Camels

All the A rider with some curious camelscamels we saw were dromedaries, which have only one hump. Fully grown, these camels can measure more than 7 foot (from its toes to the top of its hump) and weigh 1,600 pounds. It’s clear that they are built for speed, because despite their great weight they are tall and slim with long slender legs. We were rather nervous to start with, but overall we were amazed at how calm and placid they seemed. (I wouldn’t want to be left alone in a dark room with one, mind.)


The camels we saw, although they weren’t actually racing, seemed to have an understated speed about them. They didn’t actually seem that fast, but by the time you’ve stopped the car and brought up your camera to photograph them they are half a mile away. I have seen reports that they can travel at up to 40mph – a fact I intend to try and verify next time I am following them on the track.

Training camels

We noticed that the larger camels had smaller ones attached them to by ropes. Further researched revealed that these were younger camels (13-16 months) attached to older beasts to steady them. They also have to learn to wear the Al Khidam (rope), and the Al Shidad (saddle). The training period is short, lasting for between one and three months, and some already had robot jockeys attached. (More on robot jockeys on the next post on camels).

(See http://www.zipzak.com/ for more information.)

The camel market

We wanted to find out how much camels cost in Qatar. A search on the internet produced no results, necessitating a trip to the camel market. (As if we needed an excuse!)

We wandered rounAt the camel marketd looking for people to talk to – never hard to find in Qatar. A Sudanese man was happy to take a break in feeding his camels (I’m not sure if his camels were quite so pleased), and he told us the prices of camels we randomly pointed out. Two large ones were priced at 5,000 riyals (US$1400) each – these were 15 years old. To the left were some smaller camels, year olds, and these cost 3,200 riyals (US$900) each. These ones were for eating. A fast racing camel, he told us, would cost between 2 and 3 million riyals (US$550,000 – US$800,000 dollars), but the most expensive ones available on the market cost a mere 30,000 riyals (US$8000). We toyed with the idea of setting up a camel stable, but decided we didn’t have enough room in our apartments.


- We have been told that camel racing will take place on the December 20th, 21st, 22nd, 23rd and 24 th from 5.30 - 9.30 a.m. and from 1.30 - 4.30 p.m. Last time we were given wrong information, so who knows?

-You can ring the track on 487 2028, but if there is an answer you will be having more luck than us. The person who answers may not speak English.

- Even out of the racing season, both the market and the track are worth visiting. In both places, we found people extremely friendly and eager to show off their beasts. (I’m sure we would have been given tea if it hadn’t been Ramadan!)

Also see:

Camel Racing

See a video of camels at the Shahhinaya camel racing track in Qatar on YouTube here

Camel Train

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