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12 animals disqualified from Saudi camel beauty contest over Botox injections

This year’s camel beauty contest has been mired in scandal as the prize money of $31.8 million tempted some owners to cheat.

world Updated: Jan 24, 2018 22:32 IST
Agencies
Agencies
Agencies, Al-Rumahiya, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia,King Abdulaziz Camel Festival,camel beauty contest
A Saudi man walks in front of camels as he participates in the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah Governorate, northeast of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 19, 2018.(Reuters)

A dozen animals have been disqualified from Saudi Arabia’s annual camel beauty contest because their owners used botulinum toxin or Botox injections to make their lips and faces look more alluring.

This year’s event has been mired in scandal as the prize money of $31.8 million tempted some owners to cheat. Authorities have raised the profile of the month-long King Abdulaziz Camel Festival by moving it from the remote desert to the outskirts of the capital Riyadh and offering prizes worth a total of $57 million.

The beauty of a camel is assessed according to its height, shape of the hump, delicate ears and full lips. There are also strict rules against the use of drugs. The handbook for last year’s contest stated: “Camels that are found with drugs in lips, shaved, dyed in any parts of the body, or with changes from natural form are not allowed.”

The twelve camels were disqualified after authorities learnt a vet had given Botox-type injections to them and performed plastic surgery on them at his clinic, the Saudi media reported.

“They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw,” Ali al-Mazrouei, the son of an Emirati camel breeder, told the UAE daily The National.

“It makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh, look at how big that head is. It has big lips, a big nose.’”

The chief judge of the show, Fawzan al-Madi, told Reuters: “The camel is a symbol of Saudi Arabia. We used to preserve it out of necessity, now we preserve it as a pastime.”

A Saudi man rides a camel he participates in King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah Governorate, northeast of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 19, 2018. (Reuters)

The festival is the biggest in the Gulf and involves up to 30,000 camels. The camel beauty contest has been eagerly looked forward to since it was launched in 2000.

The judges rate the size of the lips, cheeks, heads and knees of the dromedaries presented by different tribes as they were paraded along a dusty racetrack.

This year’s festival has coincided with radical reforms in the kingdom, which is getting its first movie theatres. Sports stadiums have been opened up to women, who will soon be permitted to drive. Authorities are also hoping to diversify the economy away from the oil that has been its lifeblood for decades.

But as they seek to transform the conservative country, Saudi authorities are trying to smooth the path for reform by emphasising traditional aspects of their culture. And for the Bedouin of Arabia, nothing is more essential than the camel, used for centuries for food, transport, as a war machine and companion.

The government has created a permanent venue on a rocky desert plateau to host the various events of the camel festival – races and show competitions with combined purses of 213 million riyals ($57 million). The pavilion features an auction where top camels can fetch millions of riyals.

A man cheers as he rides a camel during King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah Governorate, northeast of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on January 19, 2018. (Reuters)

There are also food stalls and souvenir shops, a camel obedience competition, a petting zoo featuring the world’s tallest and shortest camels, a museum with life-size sand sculptures of camels, tents for tasting camel’s milk and viewing camel-hair textiles, and a planetarium showing how Arabs rode camels through the desert guided by the stars.

Organisers say this “heritage village” will expand in coming years as crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – who is heir to the throne, defence minister and head of oil and economic policy – takes the reins through a newly created official Camel Club established by royal decree last year.

“The vision is for the (festival) to become a global, pioneering forum for all classes of people to come for entertainment, knowledge and competition,” said Fahd al-Semmari, a Camel Club board member.

First Published: Jan 24, 2018 20:11 IST