An Afghan camel’s life

An Afghan camel’s life is not an easy one. If they survive the arid conditions, heavy work and littering of landmines that characterise this war-torn country, they still have one more test to face: camel fighting.

Afghans gathered in their hundreds of thousands in Mazar-e-Sharif last week to watch this spectacular duel of the dromedaries – part of the celebrations for Nowruz, the Persian New Year.

The male camels, which can stand up to 2m tall and weigh up to half a tonne, go head to head in a 10-minute showdown, slamming necks and butting heads as raucous crowds watch and gamble on the outcome.

Battle: Afghan festival-goers watch as a camel fight starts during the second day of Persian New Year celebrations in Mazar-i Sharif, northern Afghanistan


Brains not brawn: As well as using sheer brute force, camel wrestlers feint and sweep their opponents legs to try and win a submission

And there’s only one thing that will get these usually placid ships of the desert to turn so fierce – mating season.

Once the two bulls are led out into the arena, a young cow is paraded around to get them excited. The beasts are ready to clash, the trainers know, when streams of viscous milky saliva begin to stream from their mouths and nostrils.

Once the two bulls will get down to it and actually try to wrestle one another they do not simply use brute force. They wrestle artfully, feinting in here and there, eventually locking a fore-leg inside the leg of the opposition and leaning on him to topple him over in a dromedary’s version of a wrestling fall and pin.

One… two… three… you’re outta there! Camel fights continue until one is pinned to the floor or runs away

The fights, while savage, are not usually fatal. Each camel’s mouth is tied tightly closed to prevent biting. Often the loser will run into the crowd of spectators causing panic as onlookers try not to get trampled. Other hazards include splashes of viscous camel spittle.

In Turkey, the spiritual home of camel-wrestling, fights are far more organised – and high profile. There the camel wrestlers are considered the body builders of their species, and they are carefully fed so as to be enormous. The best specimens are regarded as well-formed martial artists, and they are prized by their owners.

The annual Selcuk championship, named for the western city where the event takes place, draws roughly 20,000 fight fans. Bizarrely, they also enjoy eating camel meat while watching the duels.

Savage: Camel fights do not usually end tragically, but have been condemned by animal rights campaigners for their brutality