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Camels are the new goats
Last Updated: December 13. 2008 9:30AM UAE / December 13. 2008 5:30AM GMT
ABU DHABI // The camel has always been highly prized in the UAE but its popularity elsewhere in the world has been more muted.
Now with a wink of its long eyelash, the desert’s beast of burden has caught the imagination of the philanthropic public and become one of the charity gifts of choice.
Fans of the ship of the desert have made it one of the best-selling animals on a charity website that lets people buy livestock as a gift on another’s behalf to be donated to some of the world’s poorest communities. So popular has the camel become that it is now rivalling the goat, the long-time favourite gift.“Giving a goat is so last year,” said James Asfa, a researcher at Intelligent Giving. “Camels are the new goats.”
Last year, according to Oxfam, which runs the Unwrapped scheme, was all about the goat but the camel is fast catching up.
“One reason for the gift’s popularity has to be the personal element – the giver gets to choose exactly what his or her money is being spent on, and feels like they’ve made a big difference to one community’s or family’s life by giving them something they really need,” said Mr Asfa.
“The camel gift really stood out from the crowd. It is a quirky alternative to the traditional goat and appears to deliver real benefits to poor communities, and that is why we have made it our number one gift.”
So far the programme has raised £45 million (Dh246m) sending ethical, sustainable gifts to 2.5 million poverty-stricken people in more than 50 countries. Several years ago Oxfam Unwrapped began offering the camels, in addition to goats and sheep, as a quirky gift option that “keeps on giving”.“They spit, they bite, and they’re bad tempered – but camels don’t deserve their bad reputation!” the website reports. “In harsh conditions there’s no better means of transport, plus they provide nutritious milk and even dung for fuel and fertiliser. What more could you want?”
While the price for a top thoroughbred camel in the UAE can be anything from Dh2 million (US$544,000) to Dh3 million, the camels procured by the British charity can be bought for a more modest £95 (Dh517). Most recently they have been given to farmers in Somaliland, where they are a traditional and essential part of a farmer’s livelihood.
And because of climate change, camel stocks in the region are low.
Camels could perhaps lay claim to being more versatile than goats. Not only can they carry large loads and survive in extreme climates but they can go up to 15 days without water, whereas goats can only last a mere three.
Many of the animals in Somalia died during droughts in 2003 and 2004, meaning that women have had to fill in the gaps by travelling long distances to fetch water.
“The camel is a means to helping them transport their goods but they also provide other things. People have been affected by climate change and they need their camels restocking.”
The last batch of camels bought as gifts were given out via a lottery at a village in the Togdheer Region of Somalia. Thirteen were handed over to lucky villagers, who signed for their new animal with a fingerprint.
Ashar Abdillahi, a mother of six and a recipient of one of the programme’s camels, had to carry water while she was heavily pregnant right up until her last child was born.
“My husband is away, looking for new pastures, and so I am looking after the family,” she said. “We have 80 sheep and goats, and this is our first camel. Having this camel will mean that we can now transport everything and move to
new pastures. It also means that I will not have to carry water any more.”
Some 180 camels have been distributed to 15 villages in Ashar’s region so far.
Dr Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory in Dubai, said camels are “everything for the nomads of East Africa”.
“There are more than six million dromedaries in Somalia,” he said. “Camels are their livelihood; they survive in their harsh environment because of the ship of the desert: they drink their milk, they ride them, they sell and buy them, they use their wool, their meat and even their droppings as fuel.”
Saeed Ali, a resident of the Lebiguun community, described being “beyond happiness” after he was handed a camel through the programme.In addition to camels, Oxfam Unwrapped offers goats for £25, sheep for £29 or donkeys for £50. There is also the option of buying mosquito nets to protect children from malaria in Sierra Leone, for £15, and an assortment of other items including bogs, seeds and safe water.
The buyer is sent a DVD and gift box; the person they bought the gift for receives a certificate describing how it has benefited others.
Until the discovery of oil, the UAE was as dependent on camels as those living in Somaliland. The animals have remained a central part of the nation’s culture, providing measures of a family’s wealth and paraded in beauty contests.
At the first Mazayin Dhafra Camel Festival in the Western Region, in June, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Sultan paid a record Dh15m for one camel named Mabrukan, while Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, bought a female camel for almost Dh10m.
At the festival’s beauty contest the purebreds were judged on the curvature of the ears, size of the chest, the size of the nose relative to the face, fullness of hump, the length of the neck, glossiness of the coat and depth of its colour. A second festival will be held later this month.http://www.thenational.ae/article/20081213/NATIONAL/390822414