UAE camel festival will have 15,000 camels and Dh80m in prize money

The biggest camel festival in Al Wathba is set to begin this weekend and will feature participants from across the Arabian Gulf.

More than 15,000 camels will take part in this year’s Final Annual Camel Races Festival in Al Wathba this weekend. Marwan Naamani / AFP
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ABU DHABI // The biggest camel festival in Al Wathba is set to begin this weekend and will feature participants from across the Arabian Gulf.

The seventh Final Annual Camel Races Festival, a 10-day event, will open on Saturday with 15,000 camels and more than Dh80 million in prize money.

“This festival is set to be one of the most important and biggest festivals in the region, as it is a matter of national pride and conserving a heritage within the UAE and the region,” said Abdullah Al Muhairi, assistant undersecretary for camel racing at the Ministry of Presidential Affairs.

Races will be held daily from 6am to 2.30pm, with auctions taking place as well.

The winners of the 360 races are eligible to win about 400 cars in all.

About 12,000 people are expected to take part in the races and the festival events.

A new addition this year is a day dedicated to sword dancing that will feature dancers from around the region.

Although the Baynunah Camel Beauty Competition last year had 25,000 participants, it did not have the scope of this year’s festival.

Mr Al Muhairi said the number of participants and the range of activities at this year’s festival made it important. “We are hoping to attract an even bigger number of spectators to this year’s festival and we have organised the event to do so,” said the former general manager of the UAE Camel Racing Association.

The auction would be the most important event of the festival, said Mr Al Muhairi.

To boost participation, festival organisers have improved the documentation process and created incentives for camel sellers by awarding prizes to participants and buyers.

“Over the past five years, there has been more support from the Government and the sponsors, and, therefore, our event will reflect that,” he said.

Festival organisers have been coordinating with GCC participants to help streamline the registration process for foreign camels. Thousands are expected to arrive over the next few days.

“I’d like to first commend all the effort placed into organising an event that helps preserve our national spirit and roots,” said Khalifa Al Nuaimi, chief executive of the Advanced Scientific Group Research Centre.

Mr Al Nuaimi, whose centre has helped to breed three generations of elite camels over the past two decades, is responsible for thousands of animals.

Many are sold at auction and raced at competitions across the GCC.

“This festival proves that our efforts over the years of conducting events in Al Wathba, and especially ones that are part of our national pleasure, are culminating in an even bigger event,” he said.

In 2008, a camel was sold for a record Dh5.8 million at an Adihex auction in Abu Dhabi. The buyer was Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, Crown Prince of Dubai.

“Aside from the auctions, we have been working with the festival for a few years. And every year we see it growing and more events being incorporated,” said Mr Al Nuaimi.

“Those who love camel racing and those who love the sport will understand that this is a big event.

“This is for the people and, therefore, we are excited to present it to the public.”