Camel wrestling festival in Turkey criticised by animal rights activists

Traditional event attracts thousands of people every year to watch animals clash

A camel wrestling festival in Turkey has been criticised by animal rights activists, who say animals are abused and injured during the event.

The 40th International Camel Wrestling Festival took place in Selcuk in the Aegean province of Izmir in western Turkey on Sunday.

The traditional event attracts thousands of people every year. This year, it featured 152 camels wearing saddles, ornamental cloths and embroidery of various patterns and colours on their humps and necks.

Camels are forced to clash with each other in an arena, though they are made to wear muzzles to prevent bite wounds.

Thousands of people set up tables and chairs on a hill adjacent to the arena and cook on barbecues, eat and drink while they watch the animals tangle.

Gulgun Hamamcioglu, the Izmir representative for the Animal Rights Federation (HAYTAP), said goading animals to fight each other was a "big crime".

"You see an animal, a live being fight in front of you and it is suffering, is wounded and maybe they kill each other. People enjoy this and maybe make a financial profit," she said.

"Please let's all together stop this picture of shame, this scene that makes us ashamed of humanity.”

A wrestling camel waits for its rival at the Pamucak Arena. Photo: Reuters

Mehmet Falakali, the former head of the tourism ministry's Selcuk office, said the camels cannot seriously hurt each other and there were personnel to separate them if clashes become too intense.

"The people who are tasked with separating the camels pull them away from each other when the referee sees a (negative development)," said Mr Falakali, who has helped organise the festival for the past 35 years.

"There is certainly nothing such as their breaking each others' hooves or biting each other.”

Necip Cotura, who has three camels and participates in the festival as a hobby, said the event was “done with love”.

“It is not a fight,” he said. “It is wrestling - just like how humans wrestle.”

Yahya Yavuz, another participant, said his family takes care of their four camels like their children and that his camels would not hurt others.

Updated: January 17, 2022, 10:25 AM