What to do when your prized camel needs urgent medical care? You call on the experts at Dubai Camel Hospital, of course.
Off an eastbound desert road, away from Dubai’s world-beating architecture, flashy hotels, and luxury allure, there’s a different kind of state-of-the-art facility – one that harks back to the region’s roots. The Dubai Camel Hospital’s unassuming facade comes with no fanfare, glitz, or glamour, but it’s one of the most significant buildings in the region. Opened in 2017 at a cost of US $10 million, the hospital was further expanded in 2019 due to overwhelming demand. Today, it can treat up to 32 camels at a time, making it one of the most advanced facilities of its kind, along with the Salam Veterinary Camel Hospital in Saudi Arabia and Tharb Camel Hospital in Qatar. “Dubai Camel Hospital is a unique hospital catering specifically to the needs of the burgeoning camel industry that has been flourishing over the past few years,” the hospital’s director, Mohammed Al Bulooshi, remarks.
“Emiratis have a strong relationship with these animals,” says Dr Mansoor Ali Chaudhry, head of the hospital’s clinical department. Camels were hugely important to Bedouins, with the “ships of the desert” providing transportation through the arid landscapes of the region, supplying food, clothing, and shelter, and even being used as currency.
According to the Dubai Camel Hospital, there are approximately 300 000 camels in the UAE. “Emiratis have for centuries kept camels as loyal, intelligent companions,” continues Dr Chaudhry. They play a visible part in the cultural makeup of the region through literature, gatherings, events, and shows, which are also attractive to tourists. Camel stables are meeting places for many Emiratis; they’re relaxing, social spaces where people share tea and discuss current affairs. While many of these animals are reared to participate in camel beauty pageants, most of them are used for one of the most popular sports in the region – camel racing, which today is most commonly done with electric jockeys.
As long as there have been domesticated camels, there has been camel racing. The ancient sport is an extremely lucrative trade, with prize-winning camels scoring high-value competition money. The Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum camel race festival in Dubai – which takes place at the Al Marmoom camel racetrack, next to the hospital – has a combined prize purse of more than US $25 million. Pedigree camels can cost from $55 000 up to tens of millions of dollars and owners might spend more than $1 000 a month caring for and preparing their racers. Same as for Thoroughbred horses, these camels have a controlled diet (oats, bran, dates, and cow’s milk) and a strict athletic routine of cardio and strength training. Top racing camels will do speeds of around 60km/h as they run round a 1.5 to 8km track, or up to 25km during a camel marathon, at a slower speed.
At the Dubai Camel Hospital, an international team of 11 veterinary doctors care for their valuable patients. The hospital has operating tables modified for camels to accommodate their unusual shapes, long necks, long legs, and humps, while the building has a fully stocked pharmacy and laboratory. “Depending on the nature of the medical condition and the staff involved, three to five camels can be treated at one time,” says Dr Chaudhry. Since its inception, the hospital has tended to thousands of camels. Like human athletes, camels can experience many injuries due to racing, such as long bone fractures. Interactions among each other can sometimes be violent, with bulls breaking each other’s jaws.
Treatments include everything from “emergency cases requiring first aid, to consultations, non-infectious diseases, radiology, and surgeries,” says the doctor. Procedures cost camel owners between $500 and $10 000, but hospital fees can be more than $20 000, depending on how long a patient is in for. There’s even a VIP room for owners who want to accompany their beloved camel while it’s being operated on. Individuals can observe surgeries from a large viewing gallery, or through a high-definition audio visual experience. HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has also initiated and supported advanced research in the field encompassing, from vaccines to the health benefits of camel milk, breeding techniques, embryo transfers, artificial insemination and DNA testing, farm management, and optimal feed. This has led to proper racetrack protocol and a legally controlled sport to help the camel industry as a whole.
The facility is proudest, however, of the work it does for camels in need. Dr Chaudhry speaks of the pleasure staff at the hospital have working with these animals. “There’s nothing like watching a camel with a newly repaired fracture stand again, then walk. We get to witness the recovery smiles and their bright eyes,” the doctor says after aiding camels with physiotherapy. “We help camels with difficult births and witness them licking their newborns for the first time, with a thankful look in their eyes at us for helping.”
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Originally published in the Spring/Summer 2021 issue of Vogue Man Arabia