Emiratis stand next to their camels during the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Camel Festival for purebred Arabian camels (al-Dhaid 2021-2022). Emiratis stand next to their camels during the Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Camel Festival for purebred Arabian camels (al-Dhaid 2021-2022).
Image: Karim Sahib/AFP
OWith heated stalls and hot milk, life couldn’t be more glamorous for Saudi Arabia’s prettiest camels when they stay at a luxury resort near Riyadh.
For 400 riyals (just over $100) a night, the camels are trimmed, washed and pampered before entering beauty contests, where millions of dollars are at stake.
The camels, many of which are rented out, are being checked closely for Botox and other illegal enhancements which could see them kicked out for cheating.
And it’s all done in a Covid-safe environment to avoid any disruptive outbreaks.
The Tatman, described as the first camel hotel, is an open-air desert resort near the annual King Abdulaziz Festival, which has prize money totaling $66.6 million.
It’s a logical step for the lucrative industry in the well-heeled Gulf, where camels are prized as a symbol of traditional life.
Animals are judged on attributes such as their lips, necks, humps, and coloring, and wins are highly prestigious for their owners.
Omair al-Qahtani, who is Saudi, registered 80 camels in the Tatman for 16 days, saying it would cost him between $160,000 and $213,000.
The facility is “very comfortable, as the camels stay in their care and undergo regular medical checks,” the 51-year-old businessman told AFP.
It has 120 enclosures, including singles and doubles, each equipped with plastic containers for water and fodder. Departure is at 12:30 p.m.
During their stay, 50 workers take care of the animals and are kept under strict sanitary conditions to minimize the risk of Covid cases.
In years past, Qahtani and his assistants set up tents near the festival, tending and feeding the camels themselves.
Many four-legged guests are competitors in the Mazayen al-Ibl contest, the world’s largest camel beauty contest and a highlight of the King Abdulaziz Festival.
Mohamed al-Harbi, head of media at the camel club which organizes the competition, said the group came up with the hotel “to protect and preserve the camels and also to reduce the burden on the owner”.
He said the hotel was popular, generating revenue of over $1.6 million.
Money is no problem for some who attend the festival, which features well-appointed buildings and tents in the middle of the desert, and stands for luxury car makers Rolls-Royce and BMW.
Saudi enthusiasts can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on camels entered in competitions, where unscrupulous competitors sometimes seek an illegal advantage.
Forty-three camels were chased away from the festival when camel controllers spotted infractions including Botox, silicone and fillers injected into their lips, bumps and tails.
But Harbi said the hotel was providing “screening” so people “can find any tampering early”, reassuring them that their rented beasts will not be sent packing.
Qahtani said this is a big plus, as trafficked camels can face fines of up to $26,000.
The competitions “reinforce the obsession with camels in Saudi Arabia”, Harbi said.
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