ABU DHABI // Mohammed Saleem has spent almost a decade undertaking the challenging job of rearing and breeding camels.
Mr Saleem, 25, a Bangladeshi, started working at the camel farm in Al Razeen on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi when he was only 15.
“Nurturing camels is not everybody’s cup of tea, it involves lots of dangers as well,” said Mr Saleem, who looks after a herd of 60 camels.
“Many workers who come to work here soon quit and flee the country or they go off on vacation and never come back. In fact, they couldn’t endure the challenges and summer heat.”
The camels’ temperamental nature also scared many workers away, Mr Saleem said.
“It needs experience of care and high alertness all the time, particularly when you anger camels, like at the time of milking and when you take their babies away,” he said.
“They may harm you seriously and kick you. No such incidents happened here, but people are afraid,” he said.
Most of the time, however, camels are calm and gentle, said Mr Saleem, who earns Dh900 a month, most of which he sends back to his family in Bangladesh.
But he said, practise makes perfect.
“I have learnt how to deal with them. We know how much distance we need to keep when milking.”
The milking process is a two-man job, with one holding the camel tightly at the end of a rope while the other milks the animal.
“The camels keep kicking while milking and all the time she keeps turning her long neck towards the person milking to stop him from milking, then the guy who holds the rope hushes her away,” he said.
“Mistakes and lack of alertness could be fatal.”
Mr Saleem lives at the farm in a small, makeshift apartment with a bath and toilet, At least now, he says, it is fitted with an air-conditioning unit.
“Don’t talk about summers, the summers are killer here,” he said.
“I have seen those days when there was no electricity in the area,” he said, pointing out that power was supplied to the area only two years ago.
“I remember the harshest days when there was no power and temperatures in desert touched 55°C.
Their daily routine involves feeding, cleaning, milking and showering camels.
“In summers we wake up early and finish all of our work by 10am and take a rest until 4pm, then we start work again,” Mr Saleem said.
Camels, however, seem to prefer the hot summer months because they tend to fall sick in winter. “Summers are good for camels and they are more happy and healthy in summer, while in winters they remain troubled. Arab camel owners also say the same,” he said.
“My experience over the last 10 years is of them falling sick more in winter than in summer. In summers they are completely fit and comfortable,” he said.
Camels are milked twice a day, at 9.30am and 4.30pm. One camel gives about five to 10 litres of milk a day, depending on the breed.
“Living in deserts now has become a way of life for me,” he said. “Now we are used to it and don’t feel awkward.”