Thousands of camels on display in Saudi Arabia in world’s biggest camel festival

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The King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Riyadh will enter its crucial stages next week as the competition in the beauty and speed categories intensifies and contestants seek to win prizes reaching millions of dollars.

The town of Ramah, about 120 kilometers away from the capital, hosts the second edition of the world’s largest camel festival. According to the organizers, the festival is held on 30 million square meters in the middle of the desert.

The location holds an important historical meaning as it was the starting point of the armies of the founding King Abdulaziz on their mission to unite the country.

The festival started on January 1 and will continue until February 1, however the more tense rounds in the competition begin next week.

“The number of visitors varies between 25,000 and 30,000 per day,” said Sultan al-Bokami, the festival’s spokesman. “People come here looking for originality, heritage and culture. There is also a big turnout from foreign residents of the kingdom and staff members of embassies.”

He added that the foreigners love camels and the desert.

In an effort to stop oil dependence and diversify its economy, Saudi Arabia, which is visited by millions of people who perform their pilgrimage yearly, is reviving its tourism sector to add extra income in light of the drop in oil prices.

Saudi Arabia is set to begin issuing tourist visas in the first quarter of 2018 for the first time in history.

Around 26,000 camels are participating in the “Camel Mazayen” contest which crowns the most beautiful camel.

The tense competition lead some camel owners to perform plastic surgery on the animals to increase their chances of winning. More than 20 such cases were caught so far, according to the organizers.

“The monitoring of fraud and tampering has proved to be successful,” said Prince Mohammed bin Turki bin Saud who is participating in the contest. “This is considered torture for the camel and puts it through severe pain which is inhumane behavior.”

The camel racing competition will begin on Wednesday and continue until the end of the festival with millions of dollars up for grabs. Owners from Bahrain, the UAE, Kuwait and Oman are participating as well.

The festival is also showcasing the tallest camel in the world with a height of three meters.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman are due to attend the closing ceremony of the festival on February 1, alongside the Kuwaiti prince and officials from neighboring countries.

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