Who needs a fancy hybrid? Get a camel!

Don't call it a comeback: In Rajasthan, the rising price of oil means camels are a hot commodity

By Andrew Leonard
May 3, 2008 1:32AM (UTC)
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In Berkeley, the price of gas nudges four dollars a gallon, and the citizenry rush out en masse to buy Priuses. But in the desert state of Rajasthan, it's camels that are flying off the lot.

So says the Financial Times, in an amusing, albeit disturbing-if-you-think-too-much-about-it, story by Jo Johnson, "Camel demand up as oil price soars."


India's camel population, reports Johnson, has plunged by 50 percent in the last decade, to only 450,000, as farmers switched to tractors. But the high price of oil is good news for camels.

"Two years ago, a camel cost little more than a goat, which is nothing. The price has since trebled," said Ilse Köhler-Rollefson of the League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development.

(The League for Pastoral Peoples and Endogenous Livestock Development? Couldn't they have come up with anything simpler?)

The LPPS is encouraging the Raika community -- traditional guardians of the camel population since the days when Maharajahs rode them into battle -- to diversify into products such as camel milk, optimistically dubbed "the white gold of the desert," camel leather handbags and camel bone jewellery.

Animal-lovers hope that the surge in oil prices will enhance the status of camel-breeders, who resent the lack of respect society has accorded their traditional knowledge, and give the Raika a strong incentive to stop selling female camels for slaughter.

Hmm. Camel leather handbags and camel bone jewellery don't sound all that great for the camels, actually.


As for the rest of us, if camels are making a comeback, how long before Clydesdales are found more useful for their original purpose than for peddling Budweiser?

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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