The 40-day King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northeast of the capital Riyadh, kicked off in early December. In its sixth year, it will see breeders compete for more than $66 million in prize money, according to the Saudi state media outlet Saudi Press Agency (SPA), so the stakes are high.
Unscrupulous breeders have been accused of using a number of methods to make their camels more likely to win, such as injecting silicones and fillers, and inflating body parts using rubber bands to improve their appearance, SPA reports.
This year, organizers have dealt with 147 cases of manipulation, the largest number since the festival began. Forty-three participants were disqualified.
The festival lasts 40 days.
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Marzouk Al-Natto, spokesman for the festival’s legal committee, said breeders who commit fraud must pay fines that vary depending on the violation, SPA reports.
For example, the fine for injecting fillers, Botox or hormones can be up to 100,000 riyal ($27,000) per camel, while braiding, cutting the tail or dying of the camel is fined 30,000 riyal ($8,000).
To detect sabotage, the camels are examined both physically and clinically, using devices such as X-ray machines and sonar devices.
The owners of winning camels receive cash prizes and the recognition means they can sell the animals for higher prizes.
Rare camels are big business in Saudi Arabia. According to SPA, an estimated 1.5 million of the animals are protected by their owners using microchips.
Camels are an important part of Saudi culture. The animals are well adapted to life in deserts such as the Arabian Desert, large parts of which lie within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.