10 Amazing Camel Racing Facts (Kids Friendly!)

Camel racing is a very popular sport in Asia, Africa, and Australia. 

It has been a part of many generations of the Arab people and has been gaining traction in the western world as well.

Here are 10 of the most interesting facts about camel racing.

camel racing facts

Camel Racing Facts

1. Camel Racing Originated On The Arabian Peninsula In The 7th Century A.D.

Back then, it had only an informal role in society.

Most of the camel races organized there were parts of bigger ceremonies and festivals like birthdays and weddings.

These informal events continued until the 1970s when camel racing became an established sport. 

In 1964, afraid that the camel is being erased from their culture, Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal bin Abd al-Aziz organized a first “official” camel race.

The race was 12 miles long and was part of the Heritage Festival.

It proved to be a big success and became a regular part of the Heritage festivities.

Less than a decade later, it became a real professional sport.

Many organizing committees were formed to control the races and to formulate rules and regulations for camel racing.

And many professional facilities for breeding, training, and nutrition followed.

2. Most Of The Camels Used For The Races Are One-Humped Dromedary Camels

 Because of their height, strong, fast, and light legs they have been used for racing. 

The Latin word dromedarius means “kind of camel”, and it is derived from Greek words dromas kamelos which means “running camel.”

3. Camels Can Reach A Running Speed Of 40 Mph (65 Km/h)

Camels are famous for their way of walking called the lateral pacing gait. 

In a pacing gait, a front and back leg of the same side move forward, and then the other two legs of the opposite side.

This way of walking prevents camel’s legs from colliding, and the animal can have a longer stride, bigger speed, and spend less energy on walking/running.

4. In Arab Countries, Racing Camels Are Known As Al-Hejin 

In the Arab language, hejin means interbreeds, but also a woman or a camel that comes from noble stock. [1

When talking about camels, al-hejin refers to the white as well as to the superior quality types (literally translated it can mean breeds of finest quality).[2]

5. In The Middle East Races Are Organized From October To April

These are the winter months of the year when the temperature is lower and it’s easier for camels to run. 

There are, however, a few smaller races throughout the year, during the offseason.

Races take place in the early mornings on Fridays and Saturdays.

In Australia, two of the largest camel races are organized in May and July.

6. The Largest Camel Race Ever Was In Mongolia And Had 1100+ Participants

According to Guinness World Records, on 07 March 2016, 1108 camels participated in a race called Temeenii Bayar in Mongolia.

There were only two conditions to participate: the camel had to be at least 4 years old, and it had to be a purebred Mongolian two-humped Bactrian camel. 

The race was 9 miles long (15 km), the winning time was 35 min 12 sec.

The whole race was completed in 1 hr 8 mins. [3]

7. The Largest Camel Event Was Held In Saudi Arabia And Included Over 14,000 Camels

The Third Crown Prince Camel Festival took place from 8th August to 11th September 2021 in Taif, near Riyadh in Saudi Arabia.[4]

The festival broke the previous 2 world records it had set and had 14,843 camels participating in 2021.

The camels were fighting for a total prize of over $14 million that were awarded for speed, good looks, and breeding.

Another festival that is threatening to break that record is the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival that is planned to start on the 1st of  December 2021.

It will last until 12th January 2022, and in 40 days of the festival, it is estimated that around 33,000 camels will be competing in 19 different categories for a total prize of $66.6 million.

What is special about this festival is that women will be able to participate for the first time in a camel festival. [5]

In Australia, the largest races are the Camel Cup in Alice Springs, the Uluru Camel Cup, and Boulia Camel Races. 

The victory prizes in those cups can go up to a humble $45,000 (at least compared to Arab ones).

8. Instead Of Human Jockeys, Arab Countries Are Using Robots To Steer Camels During Races

Before robots were introduced, children jockeys rode the racing camels. 

Because of their light weight, camels were able to run faster.

However, there were reports of thousands of children (some at the age of 2) being trafficked for use as camel jockeys.

Child camel jockeys were often sexually and physically abused, most were physically and mentally stunted, as they were deliberately starved to prevent weight gain. 

Many of them got seriously injured or died from falling off a camel during the camel training.

In 2002, UAE banned the use of children under the age of 15 for camel races, and in 2005 Qatar banned child jockeys, switching to robotic jockeys.

The first robot jockeys were made by the Swiss robotic company called K-Team.

After a year of research and design, and 1 million dollars spent, it was discovered that camels were uncomfortable with their new riders. 

These 60 pound heavy robots (27 kg) cost around $10,000 each and allowed remote tracking of the camel’s speed, heart rate, and robot’s battery life.

However, they proved to be too costly for camel owners, so they turned to a cheaper homemade product. 

Today’s jockey robots weigh around 9 pounds (4kg) and are a reworked and remotely controlled power drill that has a long plastic whip and a walkie-talkie.

With one press of a button, the camel owner can start the drill that will whip the animal to run faster.

As the animal is running, dozens of camel owners can be seen following them in their cars next to the track, honking and shouting instructions to animals during the race.

9. In The Middle East, There Are Different Categories Of Races Depending On The Camel Breed, Age, And Sex

There are different categories according to breeds of camels used:[1]

  • Al-Mahaliyat – the local breed 
  • Al-Sudaniyat – Sudanese camels
  • Al-Omaniyat – Camels from Oman
  • Al-Muhajanat – the interbreed

The local ones are usually brown while the Sudanese are usually white and a bit bigger and faster.

There are also different categories according to the age and sex of camels. 

Distances range from 2.5 miles (4 km) for younger camels to 6 miles (10 km) for older ones.

Here are some of the categories and the distances they run.

Running Camel CategoryCamel AgeRacing Distance
Haq2-32.5 miles (4 km)
Leqai3-43.1 miles (5 km)
Yetha4-54.3 miles (7 km)
Thanaya5-65 miles (8 km)
Hool6+5 miles (8 km)
Thulel (females)6+6.2 miles (10 km)
Zumool (males)6+6.2 miles (10 km)
Different running categories according to sex, age, and distance

Usually, 90% of racing camels are females. 

They have proven much easier to handle and are a lot faster (for about 30 seconds in the race).

Races usually take place during winter months when male camels are in a rut which makes them very temperamental and difficult to control during training and race.

10. The Most Expensive Camel In The World Was Sold In 2010 For 2.7 Million Dollars 

A camel-racing fanatic had spent $6.5 million on three camels at an auction in Abu Dhabi back in 2010.

One of the camels he bought set the world record for the most expensive camel ever sold for $2.7 million. [6]

One category of camel racing festivals is camel beauty pageants. 

Some of the most beautiful specimens can earn up to $370,400.

It is no wonder that people invest a lot in camels that compete in such competitions.

Some resort to other methods though. 

At the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival back in 2018, 12 camels were disqualified as it was discovered that their owners had injected them with botox to “improve” their lips and noses.

Some Arabic sources claim that the most expensive camel in the world is a Dromedary stallion called Arnoun, sold for $53 million dollars in 2019.

If the story is true, then Arnoun has booked his place in the list of most famous camels in history.

Conclusion

And there you have it! 

10 of the most interesting camel racing facts.

Camel racing originated in the 7th century on the Arab Peninsula. Dromedary camels are used for racing and they can reach a speed of 40mph. Children riders are replaced by robotic jockeys nowadays. The largest camel race was in Mongolia, and big camel festivals can reach prize money of over $66 million.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, and Australia are just a few of the countries with a rich history of camel racing.


References

[1] Khalaf, Sulayman. “Camel racing in the Gulf. Notes on the evolution of a traditional cultural sport.” Anthropos (1999): 85-106.

[2] Khalaf, Sulayman. “Poetics and politics of newly invented traditions in the Gulf: Camel racing in the United Arab Emirates.” Ethnology (2000): 243-261.

[3] Guinness World Records

[4] Makkah governor crowns winners of 3rd Crown Prince Camel Festival, Arab News

[5] Saudi Arabia gears up to host the world’s largest camel festival this month, Mashable Middle East

[6] Camels sold for millions in the United Arab Emirates, BBC News

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