Camel campaign focuses on rubbish

"Cultural change" is necessary if residents are to halt littering that leads to deaths of desert scavengers.

Abu Dhabi- July 15- 2008 - Cameron Oliver writes in his diary on his bed in Abu Dhabi July 15, 2008. Cameron has launched a campaign to help save camels that are dying as a result of eating waste in the desert. (Andre Forget / The National)
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ABU DHABI // Campaigners trying to prevent people from dumping rubbish in the desert say their message - that one in two camels is dying from eating waste - is going largely unheard. Cameron Oliver, 12, started a campaign to save camels and other animals in the UAE as part of a school project, and has since seen his message go worldwide, appearing on television in Brazil, China, the UK and his native South Africa.

However, he and his family believe the facts are not being driven home hard enough, as there is little emphasis on recycling and many people litter without a second thought. Dr Ulrich Wernery, the scientific director at the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) in Dubai, where every second camel brought in for necropsy has ingested plastic and dies from related complications, agrees. "There are 250,000 camels in the UAE and many are regularly ingesting waste," he said

The doctor, who first started warning the public that camels and other animals were dying from eating plastic 10 years ago, believes people are continuing to ignore his message and he is so frustrated at the inaction that he has almost given up. "I watch people everywhere and there has been no change; they still throw rubbish away," he said. "When you are in Dubai, it is clean as there are rubbish collectors everywhere, but when you go to the other emirates it is devastating."

Any change could only "come from the top", added Dr Wernery. He has pinned his hopes on the Minister of the Environment and Water, Dr Rashid Ahmad Bin Fahad, who was appointed in the cabinet reshuffle in February, and planned to invite him to the laboratory to see for himself the shocking way in which animals are dying. "When I came here 20 years ago, there was no plastic. It has happened over the last 10 years and it is getting worse and worse," he said. "It is not only plastic, you can see porcelain in the stomach as well."

Cameron, who attends Al Rahah International School in the capital, said he was shocked when he learnt that the dumping of waste was causing animals to die agonising deaths. As part of a school project, he developed a website - - to stop people from dumping rubbish. "I can't believe people are killing these animals," said Cameron. "The camel is part of the UAE. It is what got people around. But it is not just about the camel. Goats are dying and turtles in the sea."

His father, Mark Oliver, who works in retail, said: "It is a sensitive issue. People throw rubbish away as if they expect someone to come and pick it up after them. There is a cultural change that needs to happen. If they don't stop they will kill all the camels." Sandra Knuteson, a Sharjah-based scientist, estimates that between 260kg and 840kg of rubbish per square kilometre is left behind at recreation sites, such as wadis in Fujairah and Hatta, each week.

One of the most polluted areas in the country is Ras al Khaimah, which is littered with smouldering junk. Four-wheel-drive clubs, which regularly head into the desert for clean-up weekends, come back with dozens of bin bags filled with rubbish, which they later burn at landfill sites. But even when refuse is properly thrown away, it often ends up at dumps and landfill sites that have no barriers to prevent animals from entering them.

Cameron's Camel Campaign is now looking for corporate sponsorship so they can extend their awareness campaign and also raise money towards biodegradable products. "It is important to remember that this is not about Cameron," said his father. "It's about the camels."