A young Bedu shows off prized
thoroughbred camels outside a
racecourse at Al Mudhaibi
Pictures by Abdullah Ibrahim al Shuhi
the dusty flatlands of Al Mudhaibi wilayat, camel
breeding is raking in big bucks for an enterprising,
young breed of Bedouins who, nevertheless, remain
true to their desert-bound lifestyle and traditions
the Gulf on fire, in high-stakes races that rival horse
races in both prestige and money.
Omani thoroughbreds more in demand than other Arabian camels,
good sprinters can command fabulous prices ranging from
RO60,000 to RO100,000 a head.
Al Abiadh camel racetrack, just off the Sinaw-Mahawt road,
draws some of the finest camels during the racing season.
breeding is big business in Al Mudhaibi
What has long been an important element of traditional
desert life is today a money-spinner for a growing number
of Bedu men.
parts of Al Mudhaibi wilayat in the Sharquiyah region, camels
are no longer bred for their milk or meat, or as beasts of
they are groomed to be the thoroughbred versions of the legendary
Arabian steed. Coveted by wealthy shaikhs of the Gulf region,these
prized thoroughbreds will set the racecourses
Racing camels are reared on a rich
is located some 30 km from historical Sinaw town which stands,
as it did for centuries, at the crossroads of Bedu camel caravan
routes (albeit plied by pick-ups in today's modern times).
eight-km circular racetrack has been built on this sprawling featureless
plain, dotted by stunted desert vegetation. Recent showers in
the area had covered this wind-swept landscape with a fine veneer
of grass, attracting bands of pastoral Bedouins with their flocks
of goats and sheep.
Camel breeding is a lucrative pursuit
for young Bedu
grazing their herds, they live in barastis makeshift
dwellings made from date palm fronds.
excellent business for us Bedu," says Shaikh Abdullah
Ali Said al Ghufaili, the owner of two young thoroughbreds.
if you set up a company, you can't hope to make something
in the range of RO70,000 against every transaction, in this
case, a camel."
these dromedaries into fine runners is the job of veteran
trainer Mubarak bin Said bin Salem al Wahaibi, whose charges
have generally excelled on the racetracks.
success has won their owners attractive prizes like cars and,
often, bids from prospective buyers mainly from the UAE, who quote
up to RO90,000 for a prize runner. Mubarak has three camels of
his own, all thoroughbreds, he says.
thoroughbreds are first put through their paces when
they are about two years old
the 1995/96 racing season, his camels won him a total of
15 cars in prizes at major racing events.
1997, the professional trainer says he helped clinch deals
worth RO450,000 involving a total of five prized camels,
all sold to wealthy shaikhs in the UAE. Mubarak is the wilayat's
top camel trainer.
Omani thoroughbred camels command fabulous prices
ranging from RO60,000 to RO100,000 at racecourses in the
the start of the training season, from June through to October,
he can find as many as 100 camels under his care. They are either
trucked to the training venue by pick-ups or herded there on foot
if the distance involved is less than 80 km, he says.
the course of the programme, however, the number of camels in
training whittles down as some cannot endure the rigours of the
training regimen, or lack mettle on the racetrack.
thoroughbreds are first put through their paces when they are
about two years old, says Mubarak. Initially the animals are trained
to obey basic commands issued by the jockey.
a crucial two-kilometre gallop decides which among them have the
stomach for the further rigours of the race field. To help build
their stamina, the camels are made to run certain distances every
day, which varies in proportion to their age.
old camels run 1 to 2 km on average; three-year olds cover
an average 2.5 km or up 5 km. Five-year old animals run
up to 6 km per day.
fact, these hardy creatures, whose ilk have endured the
ravages of the harsh desert environment since they first
walked the earth, get virtually the same fawning care deserving
of a prized Italian sports car.
are scrubbed and shampooed twice a week, any bruis daubed
with expensive ointments, and at night, kept warm with blankets
and sheets. Their diet is not the usual thorny shrubs of
A racing thoroughbred receives fawning attention
from his minders
they are reared on rich fibre-based fare, which includes the finest
honey and dates, fresh cow milk and ghee, wheat and freshly harvested
alfalfa grass. In summer, they are fed the tender leaves of the
few hours, camel owners arrive in their pick-ups laden with loads
of fresh fodder and tanks of water. Care is taken to ensure that
only the most nutritive fare is offered to the camels.
also ensure that the animals do not graze on desert vegetation,
lest they lose their stamina and consequently their racing prowess.
Weekly stomach purges also help the creatures remain in fine fettle.
the racing season, says Shaikh Abdullah, each camel owner spends
between RO200 and RO400 every month, on nutritive feeds and other
essentials. It's a small price to insure the health and well-being
of animals worth upwards of RO50,000 each, he notes.In fact, it's
not the camel-breeders alone that gain from this multi-million
demand for large quantities of fresh honey, dates, cow milk, ghee
and fodder has translated into better incomes for local farmers
in the wilayat. Camel trappings are also in demand.
windfall amounts to be made on camel deals however seem to have
little or no bearing on the desert-bound lifestyle of the Bedu
camel owners. From time to time, they return to their homes in
tiny coastal or village hamlets of the Al Sharquiyah and Al Wosta
regions, to continue their timeless kinship with their desert