The International Year of Camelids 2024: How can it benefit camel pastoralists?

It is late March 2023, and there are no plans, as yet, for celebrating the International Year of Camelids (IYC) that the United Nations General Assembly has declared for 2024. Compare that situation with the status of preparations for the International Year of Rangelands and Pastoralists that will happen in 2026 and for which a large number of active regional preparatory groups have already worked out detailed activity plans, in a bottom-up initiative.

With respect to camelids – which includes the two Old World Camels (Bactrian and dromedary), as well as four New World Camelids (llama, guanaco, alpaca and vicuna) – there is no coordinated approach. Certainly, interest in, and research on, camelids has snowballed in recent years, with regular conferences happening, and camel milk being hyped for its health enhancing properties. There is an effort of some kind to ‘turn the camel into the cow’ in terms of global significance, with research focusing on camels as such, without consideration of their socio-economic and ecological context. The prime interest is in increasing yield and performance under controlled conditions; large scale dairy farms such as in the UAE, with hightech interventions including artificial inseminaton and embryo-transfer, are held up as model.

Map showing many of the camelid pastoralist groups (not complete) Available at

But such visions exclude the traditional camel pastoralists and do nothing for the continuation of their herding systems that have generated the amazing genetic diversity of camelid breeds and types adapted to local conditions. They will eventually result in the dangerous genetic uniformity that we have in the dairy cattle sector and they ignore the close human-animal relationships that are typical for camel pastoralists. If we continue on this path, camels will become cogs in the wheel of big farms where they lose their individuality and are regarded as input-output machines. And where they are cut off from their original ecological role of converting scarce and dispersed desert vegetation into animal protein, and instead fed with imported feed grown far away.

Camel herders in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert

The International Year of Camelids presents an opportunity to set up a different development trajectory and avoid the errors of the cow dairy sector. Building on the traditional knowledge and ethics of camel pastoralists it provides a chance to carve out a new, cruelty-free, ecologically sound and community centered approach to dairying, on the lines that we have been pursuing through our social enterprise Camel Charisma and for which we have linked up with the startup Nomadic Nutrition. If taken up more widely, I am sure this path will benefit the planet and also appeal to the many who currently believe they have to be vegetarian or vegan in order to be good people.

My organization, the League for Pastoral Peoples, has hosted two preparatory meetings for the IYC in which people working with both dromedary camels and New World camelids have participated. More background information about the IYC is available in this presentation that I recently made at the Oxford Desert Conference.

How can you make the camel state animal without asking your livestock keepers how to protect it?

Quo vadis, camel of Rajasthan? Will it be good to be "state animal"?
Quo vadis, camel of Rajasthan? Will it be good to be “state animal”?

Ever since the government of Rajasthan has decided to make the camel state animal, the phones have been ringing non-stop. Its mostly journalists that want to get some insight information or opinion on this issue, or even enquire “what is the latest scandal concerning the camel, madam?”. Confusion is reigning supremely, as nobody seems to know what it means for the camel to be state animal. Is it going to be given the same protection as the peacock (India’s national bird) or the chinkara gazelle and black bucks whose hunting is severely punished with jail ? Or is it to get a status equivalent to that of the cow whose slaughter and trafficking across state borders is strictly prohibited? According to the media, the government is preparing just such an act, but nobody really seems to know the details – it is kept under tight wraps and everybody is guessing, including the people who are in the centre of this hullabaloo and on whose continued involvement everything depends: the camel breeders themselves.

The camel breeders are not amused. Not surprising with some headlines announcing that “camel safaris are likely to end“because of their animal now being “protected”.

“If the camel is state animal, this means that we are no longer the owners of our camels and that the government has appropriated them” is the fear of Amanaram, a well informed member of the camel breeding community who brings out a newspaper (Dewasi shreejayte) for his people. He had recently participated in a ‘dharna’ (sit in) staged by the Raika outside the Legislative Assembly in Jaipur to voice their concerns.

Amanaram Dewasi from the traditional Raika camel breeding community is wondering what it means if the camel becomes 'state animal'.
Amanaram Dewasi from the traditional Raika camel breeding community is wondering what it means if the camel becomes ‘state animal’.

While I assured him this would not be the case, I also remembered a newspaper article earlier this year, stating that the government was planning to patent camel milk, and nobody else would be able to sell it.

What a strange and weird idea! For one, camel milk as a natural product is not patentable. And even if it was, whom would it benefit if only the government could sell camel milk? It would be the final death knell for the camel in Rajasthan if the camel breeders could not even sell the milk of their camels. For this is where the future lies: only if a camel milk market is developed, will the camel survive outside zoos.

So far the details of the planned legislation have not been discussed in the current session of the Legislative Assembly, although this was expected. The government of Rajasthan now seems to be grappling with the question of what steps to take. Notably, it has not made any attempt to reach out to the camel breeders themselves and appears to depend for its advice on some bureaucrats sitting in Jaipur who have never gone near a camel, nor have an inkling about the problems of camel breeders.

Last week, representatives of Rajasthan’s two camel breeders’ associations and Hanwant Singh from Lokhit Pashu-Palak Sansthan (LPPS) met with MLAs and made their suggestions on how to go about saving the camel. They met with much positive response. You can read the letter written to the Chief Minister by the camel breeders and by LPPS here.

I sincerely hope that this letter will be heeded – for everybody’s benefit – the camels’, their keepers’, the public and the government itself.



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