Five years ago, if someone had asked Simon Beckett a question about camels, he would have drawn a blank.
Prior to visiting Oman, the Australian national didn't know much about animals in general. "I had a golden retriever when I was younger," he says, dubiously. "I also had a goldfish, but it didn't make it. As you can see, I'm not quite the best with animals."
But all that changed four years ago when he got an offer to work as an experiences manager at Six Senses Zighy Bay in Oman. The role involved providing customers with bespoke experiences on land, in the air and at sea. When he got to the resort, his employer asked him to take a look around and suggest areas of improvement. After an initial inspection, Beckett felt like it was a no-brainer – the resort needed some camels.
“It’s a resort in the Middle East, after all. So I told the manager what it needed was camels, and I was tasked with finding them and bringing them there.”
After hearing about a farm in Dibba that had a few domesticated dromedaries, Beckett travelled there to meet with its owner, Mohammed. He had two camels, both two years old, for sale – Wednesday and Humphrey. However, buying them wasn't as simple a process as money exchanging hands.
Sleeping next to the camels
"These camels had been raised in the traditional Bedouin style. They are their main bank account and a lifelong companion. Young Bedouin men are usually given a male and female camel because they live up to 40 years – they're considered a means of growing your wealth," explains Beckett.
"Part of the process of having the camels is that they need to get to know you and choose you – and only then can you buy them. So Mohammed basically made me live on his farm with the animals for about six weeks."
Beckett would visit the farm every day to get to know the camels and spend time with them. "In the third week, he said: 'Now you have to sleep alongside them.' Bedouins sleep next to their camels, so I started doing the same. It began with sleeping outside the enclosure. Then we started opening the door and letting them come out and sniff me. By the end of the six weeks, these two huge animals were sleeping next to me, which means they had accepted my smell. At that point, I was allowed to buy the camels."
Now, Wednesday and Humphrey live at the resort where they are part of the children's education programme, which teaches youngsters all about the animals and how to feed them. The camels have their own enclosure, they snack on pesticide-free feed and imported grass, and are washed with handmade soap. "They really are the most spoiled camels in the world," Beckett says, with a laugh.
A camel birth with a Bedouin twist
In 2018, Wednesday gave birth to Camille, her first baby, and Beckett was there to help. "It's genius really, she lay down facing up a hill and let gravity do its work. After the birth, I followed another traditional Bedouin custom – I blindfolded the baby. It teaches them to find the mother's milk by smell and not sight," he explains. "In the desert, this is common as Bedouins blindfold their camels to protect them during sandstorms. I thought it was a nice tradition to follow. And within 20 minutes, the baby was drinking from mum, and the blindfold was taken off. I couldn't believe it – it was such a natural process."
Camille lives alongside her parents in the enclosure and sometimes plays with guests. "When she was about two to three weeks, we started giving her swimming lessons – there's something you don't see every day," he says.
Earlier this year, Wednesday gave birth to another calf, which they named Mabrouk, and they plan to have the same training for the young male.
Beckett, who also assisted with the second birth, says this little camel family has changed his life. He visits the enclosure about three times a day, and leaves items of clothing when he goes on holiday, to ensure his scent is still present.
It's this love and appreciation for the animals that inspired Beckett to write children's story A Camel's Tale. Being an avid doodler, Becket combined illustrations he has created over the past two years with a story based on the lives of the camels at the resort. At first, he thought it would be a nice addition to the children's education programme. However, he is currently in talks with a publisher in the US that has shown an interest in the story, something he says he never saw coming.
"But sure, if there's going to be a big book deal and a movie deal from Hollywood later, I can get behind that," he says, with a laugh.
Beckett says the main goal of the short story is to raise awareness of the bond that humans can have with the animals. "Camels are playful, they have personalities, they have feelings. It's indisputable," he says. "They really are very intelligent creatures."