Camel Owners in Turkey
Driving through the roads of Cappadocia, Turkey, you might come across a man with a camel, offering to let you sit on it, take a photo with it or, or ride it. Camels are not native to Turkey, and the climate is Meditarranean, similar to that of Italy. Camel rides like these are also seen in countries like Egypt or Morocco, though those climates are much better suited for a camel. In Turkey, these camels have been imported from places such as Iran or Afghanistan, and are used as a business opportunity rather than treated as living beings with freedoms and rights. Many of these camels are put on a short leash to stand in place all day and are at the mercy of their owners. These camels may sometimes be treated fairly and it might not be inhumane to have them leashed to be looked at and ridden, but it still seems that the priority is monetary gain, rather than the care of an animal. A tell-tale sign of good care is the demeanor of camels. They are often social, but can have an attitude if they are frustrated with the conditions around them. Many times, if a camel spits or bites, it is because they are unhappy. Personal experience has shown that many of the camels in Cappadocia spit, snort, and have tried to bite before.
The picture below shows camels in Cappadocia. They all have a short leash that keeps their necks lower, to prevent them from having adequate space to move or spit. They are lined up in front of their food and water with saddles on two of them. Tourists can come and pet them and get a photo, or sit on them.
In Turkey, there is a balanced mixture of dromedary and bactrian camels. Bactrian camels come from Central Asia, are more accustomed to colder temperatures, have two humps and are considered to be critically endangered in the wild. The domestication and ownership of Bactrian camels by these business owners could be viewed in two ways. The first is that this may be beneficial for Bactrian camels since they are being fed and looked after, which is valid. The other might perceive the ownership of a Bactrian camel for profit and exploitation to be unfair and inhumane. Though they might be fed, they are living under the control of someone who wants to make money off of them and treat them as a spectacle.
Many of these camel owners in Cappadocia have their camels stay in the caves in the valleys at night, sometimes with a guard dog. Their daily lives consist of standing in order to be a prop in someone’s selfie, and then be put behind bars in a cave during the night. There are also various guide companies that use camels to give one to two hour rides to paying individuals. Each camel’s mouth is usually bound to avoid risk of biting and spitting, likely because they are irritated from constantly carrying people around all day.
Another concentration of camel owners in Turkey is seen in the popular traditional Turkish sport of camel wrestling. Camel wrestling involves two male camels and a female in heat. They are taken into a field in the winter to wrestle. This generally involves the two male camels pushing each other around and locking their necks together. According to the Camel Wrestling Federation, matches cannot last longer than 10 minutes. The worst part of this event is the confusing stands that sell grilled camel meat. The nationals claim that this is a traditional sport that honors camels and the role they have played in the development of Turkey, yet they force their camels to fight and will eat camel meat while watching.
In other countries where camels are native, it might be more appropriate to participate by riding them if you know the care practices of the owner. Some people feel that riding any animal is unethical, and often it might be. There is also the view that animals, such as camels and horses, are much larger and very social. If a camel doesn’t want to be ridden or touched, they tend to make it very clear. However, developing a healthy relationship with a camel allows for better communication and can aid in our understanding of the desires of the camel. If you know of someone who has a domesticated camel in a natural habitat, and properly cares for that camel, riding it might be acceptable. In Turkey, however, it seems unrealistic that the situation is safe and respectful enough for one to ride or sit on a camel without contributing to an abusive owner. Recently, after campaigns and efforts from PETA, Egypt’s tourism ministry has stated that they will ban camel and horse rides, as the touristic attraction of riding these animals around the Pyramids of Giza were considered to be abusive and neglectful to the animals. In Turkey, there may be a similar response to the commercialization of a camel’s ability to carry humans. This could change the motive for camel owners in Turkey from one of profit and income to one in which they love and care for the animals instead.
Sources: Camel Wrestling Federation, Go Turkey Tourism, Peta in Petra, Washington Post