Camel beauty pageants are a family affair at Abu Dhabi festival

A long neck, legs and lashes are just a few of the assets needed to shape up as a winner at Al Dhafra

The 'Super Bowl' of camel pageantry

The 'Super Bowl' of camel pageantry
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Hamad Al Shamsi and his son, Mohammed, know a beautiful camel when they see one.

It must have a long neck and legs, a shapely hump, large head, thick lashes and a sleek dark coat.

“Every part of the camel is evaluated,” says Mr Al Shamsi, 48, who has been judging camel beauty competitions for more than a decade.

“The cheeks how wide they are, the lips how long they are, the ears how elevated they are, the legs how straight they are.”

These details, that can be easily overlooked by the untrained eye, can mean the difference in millions of dirhams at lucrative events like Al Dhafra Festival - which opened on Monday.

This year’s winner of the camel beauty contest – who will be announced at the end of the month when the festival ends - will take home a cash prize of between Dh110,000 and Dh1 million.

Fifteen camels are selected as finalists for each of the categories – which are separated by their ages and types.

Those camels are then medically examined to ensure none have had their beauty illegally enhanced and that they are all in good health before whittling the list down to 10 winners for each category.

“The committee checks if their features have been tampered with, like if any Botox has been injected in the face,” says Mr Al Shamsi.

“The camel in the middle is the most beautiful,” says Mohammed, 16, pointing at three camels stood side by side and adorned in shiny lavender decorative necklaces.

“See how straight her leg is? And the space from the tip of the tail until the hump is just right, and the wideness of the hump. Look how it stands tall and the size of its neck,” he says.

He and his father have been raising camels for as long as he can remember.

They keep around 70 camels at their farm in Al Ain, most of which participate in races on a weekly basis.

Mohammed learnt the trade from his father, having accompanied him to camel beauty pageants for years. He believes he will be ready to become a judge himself within a year.

Across the paddocks, camel owners perch anxiously on the bleachers, eyeing the selection process from afar and taking turns to pass round a pair of binoculars for a closer look.


Read more:

Al Dhafra Festival 2017: How to spot a beautiful camel

Special report: Inside the UAE's multimillion dollar camel beauty pageants


“Every year I come to the competition and bring my camels with me,” said Hamad Al Tweel Al Marri, 30, from Saudi Arabia, who walked down to calm his camel before the competition.

Back home, he and his brothers own around 100 camels between them.

“This year I am only participating with one camel,” said the singer.

“Since I was a child I have been brought up to love camels and all of those around me loved them too, and now the government is sponsoring such competitions – we love that.”

His camels have brought him victory twice before, earning first place at Al Dhafra last year and the year prior.

“I hope I will win again this time.”

Mr Al Marri has a special trick for keeping his camels calm before competition: he sings to them. The folk songs he sings are known as shallat, the verses are Nabati poems chanted in a specific rhythm.

“I sing this to my camel to calm it down,” he says.

For those who are not confident in their singing skills, Mr Al Marri advises feeding the camel, “calling it by its name and touching it so it will know that you are being friendly.

“They can sense if you are angry by the way you talk.”

Back at the stands, three middle-aged men swap a pair the binoculars between them swiftly.

“We want to see who is getting eliminated,” says Fahad Al Hajeri, an electric technician from Saudi Arabia.

He has three camels competing in this year’s contest.

“The reason is because there are good prizes, and it is a nice way to give the camels some attention,” says the 53-year-old who lowers his binoculars and sits back, relaxed.

“My two camels have been chosen.”