Don’t overfeed your camel, says top vet scientist

Filed on August 10, 2014
Donít overfeed your camel, says top vet scientist

Top vet publishes booklet to create awareness among camel trainers.

Don’t overfeed your camel, says top vet scientist (/assets/oldimages/vet_0809.jpg)

Young camels are taken away from their mothers and brought to the camel race tracks to be trained. — KT file photo

Plastic pollution that has killed many camels in the desert has been a widely discussed topic. The UAE’s top vet scientist has now written a booklet that reveals another major, yet little known, cause for the death of “hundreds of” racing camels in particular.

Surprisingly, it is nothing else than overfeeding them with indigestible food that is usually consumed by humans.

Professor Dr Ulli Wernery, the scientific director of the Central Veterinary Research Laboratory (CVRL) in Dubai, has written the booklet that tells the story of a racing camel in the UAE, named ‘Shaheenia’ that met its end due to this very reason.

Titled The Short Life of a Racing Camel the booklet in English has been translated into Arabic as well to create awareness among camel trainers and owners about their feeding habit that is killing their most-cherished animals that bring glory and money to them.

It is a known fact that desert animals do not get a lot of food in the desert. They are used to the very poor diet and they can still survive on very little food. The milk of its mother and little bit of dry grass, leaves and hay is all that a young camel eats in the desert, explained Prof Wernery.

The race that was cut short

Sajila Saseendran

The booklet “The Short Life of a Racing Camel” has an autobiographical description of the life of a camel born in January 2012 in the desert near Al Faqa in the UAE. Born to famous racing dromedaries which had won many races for their owner when they were young, the baby camel is sad that its father was far away in the camel camp tied to the ground on his left front foot.

The owner names it ‘Shaheenia’ after the very fast falcon with which he goes hunting from time to time.

Shaheenia enjoys drinking its mother’s milk and explains how good the white warm fluid is, with antibodies against many diseases and all the ingredients, to protect the baby.

It narrates life in the desert, that of the wild animals, the changes in nature and even the society – for example, the Bedouins not hunting gazelles and instead protecting them.

It talks about the plastic menace that kills many camels and how the trainers changed the habit of feeding the racing camels with whole date fruits, without removing the seeds.

The tragic end of the camel describes the wrong feeding habits that kill racing camels.

“Young camels are taken away from their mothers when they are one-year-old. They are then brought to the camel race tracks to be trained,” he told Khaleej Times.

When they get trained, the camels are introduced to new types of food, apparently intended to make them strong and fast to win the race. However, when their diet is changed suddenly, and too quickly, the ship of the desert cannot stand it. “Their whole digestive system collapses. They cannot digest the food and they fall sick and die. I have seen hundreds of sick and dead animals because of this,” said Prof Wernery.

“Of course, people want to win (the camel race) and therefore, they feed them with too much food…But they actually make these animals sick and die…It is very sad.”

The camels training for races are fed with too much grains, mainly barley, dates (as fruit and syrup), honey, and cow’s milk.

“These are full of carbs and proteins which their stomach cannot digest fast. I have seen undigested piles of barley and cow’s milk in the stomach of dead camels,” Prof Wernery said.

“If you do it very gently, over the weeks, they might adapt to this change of diet. Do it slowly, introducing new items in very little quantity and over a long period so that their system gets adjusted to it and it can digest it well. But if you do it quickly, then they die,” he cautioned. Prof Wernery advised camel trainers to feed the racing camels with good quality hay which they can digest very well.

“The less (food) is the best for them…not even moderate. Definitely, not these highly nutritious and high-energetic foods…”

The 11-pages booklet with autobiographical description of the racing camel is now being globally distributed along with a research book on infectious diseases affecting camels, co-authored by Prof Wernery and two of his colleagues at the CVRL. Released last month, the research reference book “Infectious Diseases in Camelids” is published and distributed by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

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