Egypt’s largest camel market located just outside Giza is receiving nationwide attention as cattle across the country suffer from spreading foot and mouth disease.
Camel traders flock to Birqash Camel Market with their camel cargoes, as the demand for camel meat is on the rise due to the fear of beef consumption.
Camel meat was traditionally seen as a healthier alternative to beef, due to its low levels of fat and cholesterol, but people are now choosing camel meat for safety rather than health measures.
“Now we totally fear cow and cattle meat. So we switched to camel meat. Our cooking and our minced meat and everything is from pure camel meat. We have changed to camel meat after the media's continuous warnings to stop eating meat. I even have heard that the fresh milk is also contaminated with foot and mouth disease.”
The Birqash camel market opens early in the morning to ensure sales before it gets too hot during the day. The traders import the camels from Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda.
“This market works on Fridays and Sundays. These are the main days. On Mondays , Tuesdays and Thursdays , there is a little amount of business going here. The butchers come here to buy camels and we transport them to their shops,” camel trader Fawzy said.
The camels are transferred across the Sudan-Egypt border, where the agent sells them to the trader, bargaining included, ensuring an optimum sale.
While the traders have learnt to deal with camel temperament, animal abuse still occurs in the market, as some of the humped creatures are tied and beaten to prevent their escape.
For that, some tourists who visit the market say the experience is cruel to bear.
“I mean I totally understand that this is business and that people are here to earn their life which is natural. But I mean there are other ways to do that. And actually the camels are becoming very aggressive sometimes and they are running everywhere. It is dangerous to walk here because they are becoming aggressive because they don't know what's going on. They just have three legs. They can't really move. I just feel it’s cruel and useless,” said Marion, a French tourist.
In downtown Cairo, some butchers have specialized in strictly camel meat business. Despite the complaint of the rise in costs of camel meat, to around $9 a kilo, dishes such as camel meat kebabs remain popular, demonstrating the importance of safety over costs.