Al Ain doctor sees potential in camels beyond their milk

Dr Abdul Raziq Kakar has launched Camel4Life, a group to promote the use of camels by the world’s poorer communities, and to give traditional producers an international voice.

Dr Abdul Raziq Kakar of Camel4Life, at Al Ain Dairy camel farm. Each female produces 30 litres of milk daily. Antonie Robertson / The National
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The camel has been an integral part of life in the Arabian peninsula, and elsewhere, for thousands of years, but their potential is yet to be fully realised, says Dr Abdul Raziq Kakar.

The technical manager for Al Ain Dairy's camel farm, he has launched Camel4Life, a group to promote the use of camels by the world's poorer communities, and to give traditional producers an international voice.

Camels ensure life and livelihood in far and wide regions of the world, Dr Kakar said. They ensure access and transportation in harsh terrains of the globe and walk for almost 40 kilometres [a day], graze on scarce and scattered woody vegetation, which is otherwise wasted, and convert it to precious food items like milk and meat.

Dr Kakar, who is also founder of the Camel Association of Pakistan, credited camel milk with relieving his arthritis more than a decade ago, when he was advised to drink it by a tribal elder.

I went to a camel county of the Sulaiman mountainous region of Pakistan, lived with the camel herders, walking and moving as they, camel pastoralists, changed settlement so often.
Taking camel milk and eating simple food made me healthy and strong, he said. The group’s slogan is: Promoting the use of the camel as a worldwide livelihood for millions of people, and a livestock species resilient to climate change.

The camel's abilities could, the organisation said, make it vital in areas that suffer climatic disruption due to global warming. Yet, despite their value, the animals face challenges. For example, the area given over to them for grazing in India and Pakistan is said to be falling, there has been mass killing of feral camels in Australia, and the creatures have been linked to the spread of Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers).

Dr Kakar has secured the support of other specialists, among them Dr Ursula Windberger, an associate professor and veterinary surgeon at the Medical University of Vienna's Department of Biomedical Research.

We want to support the use of camelids as productive livestock that are used extensively in countries with harsh environments – this is our primary goal, she said.

Dr Windberger hoped one of Camel4Life's first projects will be to introduce camels to a village in Assam, north-east India.

The organisation also wants to promote the voices of camel herders in international forums.

It said their views were not often heard amid a focus on modern husbandry.

Millions of pastoralists and nomads depend on camels, and their herds are vital resources of genetic variation.
I shall use all my worth and potential to promote and use [the organisation] for the betterment of camel herders and the camel itself, Dr Kakar said.