Wed, Jan 31, 2018 - Page 6 News List

Botox banned at Saudi camel contest

AFP, AL RUMHIYA, Saudi Arabia

A man leads his camels on Jan. 19 during a beauty contest at the annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rumah, Saudi Arabia.

Photo: AFP

Huddled together on a dusty racetrack, Saudi judges scrutinize pouty lips and shapely humps in a high-stakes camel beauty pageant mired in scandal after Botox and cosmetic fillers were detected.

About 14 camels have been disqualified from the month-long King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, an annual bedouin tradition supported by the Saudi royal family that lures breeders from around the Gulf with prize money of up to US$57 million.

Organizers of the festival — with 30,000 participating camels — are cracking down on cosmetic enhancements, a malpractice that has thrived amid stiff competition and despite strong penalties as some stake millions on acquiring top breeds.

“Some breeders cannot afford to buy expensive camels,” said Abdullah bin Naser al-Dagheri, one of the judges, scribbling scores on sheafs of paper as he stood on tracks littered with camel droppings.

“They buy cheap, not so good-looking camels and try to beautify them artificially. We’re cracking down on such fraud,” he said.

Droopy lips, a tall neck and a perfectly placed hump are all winning attributes in camel pageantry.

The lure of cash prizes and the prestige of winning propels some to tweak the natural look of camels, an offense that could get the animals banned from the competition for three to five years.

Days before the festival began, authorities caught one vet performing plastic surgery on camels, media reported, prompting furious calls for new penalties on cheats.

Camels were given Botox injections at his clinic and some went under the knife to make their ears more perky, also considered a winning trait.

“Cheating is inevitable — even in a contest about beauty,” chief judge Fawzan al-Madi said. “It is prevalent just like any other animal sport such as horse racing, where steroids have found their way.”

Specialized vets and a team from the agriculture ministry had been deployed to catch violations, which include beauty products such as oils, anesthetic creams and fillers, al-Madi added.

Saudi Arabia is in the midst of historic social and economic change. Women are to be allowed to drive from June, and the conservative kingdom is gearing up to reopen cinemas for the first time in decades.

However, it is simultaneously seeking to preserve its bedouin traditions and cultural heritage.

“Camels are a symbol of the Arabian Peninsula, a symbol of Saudi Arabia,” al-Madi said. “They are our pride.”

Thousands of visitors have attended this year’s festival, which last year relocated from the remote desert to al-Rumhiya on the outskirts of Riyadh.

The spectator stands erupted in whistles and howls as camels strode down the racetrack, their humps draped in golden belts adorned with tassels and bells.

Revelers waved makeshift flags, mounting their checkered headgear on sticks as camels representing their tribes appeared.

The festival, which is to end with a closing ceremony presided over by King Salman tomorrow, also features camel racing and milk tasting, as well as a petting zoo featuring the world’s tallest camel which stands at nearly 3m.

The spirit of the festival should not be overshadowed by some cases of cheating, camel owner Howashel al-Dosary said, displaying the most expensive among his flock of 100 camels, worth 5 million riyals (US$1.3 million).

“If I catch a cheat I will tell him: ‘May God never help you! I don’t want to see your face again,’” al-Dosary said. “Our pride is more important than profit.”

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