You won’t really find much in Al Dhafra; it’s pretty much just a dry desert near Abu Dhabi. That is except for once a year in December, when a rather unusual beauty contest takes place. And for this one, size really does matter.

Camels

Credit: Jon Connell

The camel beauty contest. Yes, this is actually a real thing. The contest starts with 30,000 camels who are paraded in front of judges and awarded for their beauty (or removed if the judges think the camel is particularly ugly).

Like most people outside of the camel judging industry, I would have no idea on how to judge a camel. I know there are different breeds, and they have lovely long eyelashes, but that’s about it. These animals have quite a lot of standards to live up to. They’re judged on the largeness of their head, the width of their neck, the firmness of their ears, their long whiskers, their big beautiful eyes, and the strength of their legs. The hump isn’t missed out either, as it’s a very important part of the camel! The hump should be large, and the back should be wide. I feel like the camel has a lot of beauty standards to live up to and I am a little worried about their self-esteem.

Winning this competition is great for the owner, and probably gives the camel a little confidence boost too! The top ten winners receive luxury cars and lots of cash too, plus, they become quite popular in the camel breeding world, as people will pay good money to have their camel mate with yours. Owners and breeders also use this contest to increase the size of their camel collection, as it is the only time of year where so many camels come together, so purchasing or swapping is easily done.

Camel

Credit: xikita

The competition does come with its critics. A lot of the original locals that took part in the contest have pulled out because extremely wealthy businessmen have made it impossible for them to enter. It has become commercialised and money orientated, rather than about the beauty of camels. Locals have said that it has become about the fame as well, because if you win, you are known all over the Gulf.

The festival, which lasts for two weeks, doesn’t just celebrate the beauty of the camel – it also features horse and dog races, falconry competitions, markets, and auctions. It’s a true celebration of UAE‘s culture.

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