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Posted at: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM; last updated: Jan 14, 2018, 1:43 AM (IST)

Deserting ship of the desert

The number of camels in the country is dwindling fast. We need to be proactive to save them and the world around them

Sunil Phogat

Watching rows of camel herds in the bush country of Rajasthan and herdsmen following them lazily, but with watchful eyes, is a fascinating experience. However, under the romance lies the harsh truth of the fast dwindling number of camels. A trip to Jhalrapatan, Nagore, Pushkar, Bikaner and some villages in Haryana, where camels are extensively reared, explains why.

Rearing camels in these parts of the country would most likely be pastoral communities such as the Raikas and the Rabaris, besides the Jats. They bring a large number of camels to the fairs held at these places in October and January end. Of these, Pushkar occupies a premier location on the map of Rajasthan, making it easy for the herdsmen to slowly converge by covering an average distance of 150 km in a week’s time. Most of these herdsmen hail from the countryside of Ajmer, Jodhpur, Nagaur, Pali and Bhilwada.

While Pushkar could be called the camel capital of India, especially owing to the fair, not all is hunky-dory behind the glitz and glamour. Raikas and southern breeds of the camel are in dire straits as their count has steadily declined from 8 to 4 lakhs in the two decades. The Census report on livestock prepared by the department of agriculture regularly revises the figures and the department of animal husbandry in Rajasthan now keeps a check on illegal cross-border trading.

Ecological changes due to urbanisation and lifestyle changes in the camel breeding regions of western India have emerged as a threat to the species and despite the government and certain NGOs playing a crucial role to maintain their numbers, the future seems bleak for the camels.

While efforts are being made to control the damage — Rajasthan adopted camel as the state animal in 2014 and Rajasthan Camel (Prohibition of Slaughter and Regulation of Temporary Migration or Export) Act came into force two years later — animal welfare bulletins regularly tell us that both male and female camels are sold to butchers. Taking the animal to high humidity seashores for the entertainment of tourists is not doing the animal any good too. In unfavourable environment, they die prematurely.

NGOs engage rural women and weavers to prepare items made from camel wool and sell them at stalls during Pushkar Fair. While they are yet to venture into manufacture of rugs, blankets and shawls, a bottle of 200 ml of camel milk fetches Rs 80. However, it surprises to see dry camel milk powder being sold at Rs 1800 per kg in malls in the state. Sadly, while a traditional wool weaver in the countryside charges anything between Rs 1,000 to Rs 1,500 for preparing one rug, in the high-end stores, the prices are way higher.

In order to keep the traditions going on, the natural pastures and bushes will have to be protected as a major policy decision when allowing further growth of urban areas. The livelihood rights of the pastoral communities are already in place, but loopholes remain and that is what is taken advantage of. Why the issue needs to be dealt with swiftly is because the status quo does not just threaten camels, but the whole set up of village communities. Amid this despair, it is heartening to see that youngsters often converge upon the fair to learn and document the lifestyle of Raikas and camel herds. They might bring the change.

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