Caravans conjure images of camels gracefully walking across the desert sands in undulating motion as they sway ever so gently and the rider bobs up and dips down in sync with the animal’s gait. From the deserts of Arabia, to the windswept Thar, the BSF khaki clad troopers, to the Biblical wise men who heralded the birth of Jesus, camels have an enduring image and appeal in popular imagination.
The earliest known camel, the size of a rabbit, evolved in South Dakota, in the United States about 50 million years before the present. A long time has elapsed since then and camels stand amongst the several animals who have played a definitive role in the story of human civilization. From myth to history, camels have been quite central to the world. That’s all very well, except that as in the case of all animals over whom we believe we have dominion because they were “sent” to us to “be made use of”, Camels too have suffered gravely.
This suffering is exacerbated in post- modern times as the planet alongwith its human and non-human beings is consumed by unsustainable greed and profiteering, crouching behind business
and industry and the flawed, sick argument of livelihood. In India, the world’s largest meat exporter and hub of illegal slaughter, camels are victims of the greed and apathy which claims many other animals. Idiotic notions and boorish demand have reduced their numbers to a mere two lakh from double that numerical in 2007; in 1997 they numbered seven lakh. Rajasthan, traditionally the home of camels, is alarmed, yet has done nothing to ban their movement to outside the state.
The number of camels is decreasing rapidly due to slaughtering, which is illegal because no slaughterhouse in this country has permission to kill them. Saving the camel is important for the herder’s livelihood and also for the desert eco-system. The NRCC (National Research Centre on Camel) says that on the last count India
had 5,17,000 camels. Of these only 8,800 of the Mewari breed - which is dwindling fast - are left. Slow and sparse breeders, camels give birth to just one calf. At the present rate of killing, India will have no camels left, except perhaps, the 700 or so the BSF employs. Every month about 6,000 from Rajasthan
are taken to Delhi, Uttar Pradesh
and the Southern states. They are either illegally slaughtered for their meat, leather and bones, or are smuggled live along with cows to Bangladesh (via other states) where they are killed for meat. Made to walk great distances, even though their feet bleed, they undergo great hardships en route their destination. Likewise, thousands more are taken out of Rajasthan and land up in different states and cities of India where they are commercially exploited. Despite suffering and eventually dying miserably, it is a pity that Rajasthan has not banned camels from going out of the state, not to say that camels within the state are not exploited.
In India camels are native to Rajasthan and Gujarat; their physiology is suited to a dry desert climate (hot day, cool night) because they can go for long periods without drinking water and their padded feet are suited to soft desert sands. Camels therefore find it difficult to walk long distances and adjust to humid climatic conditions. During the monsoon, most of them get contagious diseases such as anthrax. They suffer without veterinary aid and die. Outside Rajasthan and Gujarat, they do not get their ideal diet of desert shrubs and plants as a result of which they do not keep good health. Camels are put under great stress: made to give "joy-rides" to many adults and children, and are frequently taken in processions where loud crackers are burst and there is a lot of commotion. When exhausted, they collapse and cry out in pain, but are forcefully pulled forward with ropes strung through the metal rings in their nostrils. The nose of any animal is extremely sensitive. In camels it is several times more. Nostrils are ripped apart by those who exploit these gentle beasts.