While cows have traditionally been revered in India, in 2014, camels might be the new sacred animal.
Camels are like orphans in the country. In India‘s largest state, Rajasthan, they’ve always played important cultural and economic roles, but no institution or agency was devoted to their welfare. In light of devastating camel population numbers, that’s all about to change.
Rajasthan‘s Second Sacred Animal
As reported in The Economic Times, Rajasthan is working to save the camels’ numbers by upping their conservation efforts.
The exact conservation strategies are still being worked out, but here’s what we know. The Economic Times points to a camel slaughter ban. In Rajasthan, slaughtering a cow is prohibited due to the animal’s sacred status; this ban will transfer over to the state’s second sacred animal. Rajasthan will also make camel husbandry more feasible, especially during difficult times of drought, by providing monetary assistance to buy camel food.
Why are India‘s Camels Disappearing?
The new conservation efforts will have to address more issues. As The Guardian reports, in 2003, there were 500,000 camels. Today, there are likely between 200,000 and 300,000.
Here are a few of the determining factors that will need to be addressed to revitalize Rajasthan’s camel population.
Technology: Modern technology has replaced two crucial camel functions from the past. Camels used to be a driving force in agriculture. Yet, many farmers are opting for highly mechanized and efficient technology. Today, The Economic Times highlights how mainly small farmers still use camels. Camels also used to be “the ships of the desert.” Their reign as the best transportation mode changed with the introduction of vehicles and other ways to get around.
Grazing Land: There’s also less space for camels to get around to. Their traditional grazing lands no longer exist, or they no longer have access to them. As India Today reports, some farmers converted their grazing land into land to grow cash-crops.
While some camel grazing plots remain intact, the government has barred camels from entering. According to Down to Earth, a Supreme Court ruling is keeping camels away from federally protected parks and wildlife reserves because of a perceived threat to biodiversity. In reality, camels are browsers not grazers; they are nature’s handy gardeners. While India made the decision to keep camels out of their wildlife reserves, Dubai is looking to bring camels into their wildlife reserves to keep mangroves out.
Camel Slaughter: Besides worrying about what to eat, camels have to worry about being eaten. Camel slaughter laws vary from state to state, but festivals, like Eid-ul-Zuha, create a demand for Rajasthan’s camels to be slaughtered. As the New Indian Express writes, during some festivities, camel meat is an elite and expensive delicacy. The Times of India reports that during Bakr-id, approximately 40,000 camels are slaughtered.
Disease: If camels aren’t dying at slaughter, then many of them are dying from diseases and inadequate veterinary care options. A 2005 report posted on Pastoral Peoples highlights the various medical problems that camels face. Trypanosomosis and mange hit camels particularly hard.
Abortion is also prevalent. Pastoral Peoples notes how 18 percent of 473 camel pregnancies ended in abortion. Many abortions are linked to trypanosomosis related infections. Many calves also get sick early on from common ailments like constipation and diarrhea. They are also vulnerable to accidents and predators.
Falls from grazing and consuming poisonous plants also affect the health of camels, mature and young.
Cultural Shifts: In some traditional communities, there’s also a generation gap between the old and young. Youths aren’t interested in maintaining the family camel business, so they leave and seek more urban job opportunities.
Resisting the Sacred Camel
Not everyone has the option to leave the camels behind. As The Asian Age reports, the president of Shri Bharat Gopalak Raika Mandal feels that more camel protection could mean less camels and less livelihoods for those who depend on the animals. While there are no concrete restrictions yet, the president is anxious about possible changes: no more camel nose pegs, no riding on the camels, issues of selling and purchasing camels outside of Rajasthan and threats to traditional and ceremonial practices involving camels.
Camels have always been vital to India’s economy and culture. It’s great that Rajasthan is recognizing this, but it’s only one Indian state. Please sign and share this petition to protect all of India’s camels.
Photo Credit: Clayton Sieg