Camels stressed out with ‘erratic’ driving, study finds

Levels of cortisol, glucose and lactic acid were found to be higher in camels that were transported for longer distances and those subjected to bad driving.

Traders struggle to get a camel, that has been sold for slaughter, onto a lorry in Al Ain. Stephen Lock / The National
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Many UAE residents have undoubtedly felt their blood pressure rise while navigating traffic on local roads, but such stress is not confined only to people.

In new research published in an UAE scientific journal, camels, too, have been shown to become anxious when travelling by road.

In the Emirates Journal of Food and Agriculture, the study on the dromedary, or Arabian camel, found that stress indicators in the animals’ blood rose when they were transported by road.

The study is thought to be one of the first demonstrating increased stress levels in camels because of transport.

The temperament of the animals is such that Dr Bernard Faye, a scientist at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development in Montpellier, and a co-author of the study, is “not necessarily surprised” by the findings.

“The camel is very sensitive to any change in his life. For example, in our farm it is quite impossible to force the camel to change the side of entry into the milking parlour,” he said.

Such is their reluctance to travel, he said, that often the animals would not walk onto a transporter vehicle.

Instead, they have to be lifted on.

The study, carried out in Morocco, involved blood tests on male camels that had been transported about 354 kilometres, 152km or 80km to a Casablanca slaughterhouse.

Levels of the hormone cortisol, released in response to stress, were highest in the group that had travelled the farthest, less in the camels transported 152km and lower still in the 80km group.

The same pattern was seen with glucose and lactic acid, both of which increase in response to stress.

Dr Troy Gibson, a lecturer in animal welfare science at London’s Royal Veterinary College who was not connected with the study, said there were “a whole host of physical, mental and metabolic issues that can be associated with transport”.

“The style of driving has a huge impact on the distress and physical discomfort during all forms of transport,” he said, noting that more “erratic” drivers tended to stress out the animals more, with braking and the motion of travel both leading to anxiety.

To protect the camels’ welfare, it was important to minimise stress during travel, including providing them with something to drink, according to the study’s lead author, Prof Mohammed El Khasmi, of University Hassan II in Casablanca.

“As transport is a stress even for (travel) experienced animals, it may be reasonable to give a rest period during travelling, food and water,” he said.

The animals should also be given health checks before travel and on arrival.

Whether camels suffer more during transport than other large animals was “difficult to say”, Dr Faye said, noting that creatures such as sheep that were typically transported in groups probably found it easier.

Camels that have been transported frequently were likely to encounter fewer problems.

In racing camels, for instance, the stress is non-existent.

As a follow-up, scientists would next like to look at how transport affects camel-meat quality, as stress-related substances were likely to remain in the flesh after slaughter.