The voiceless camels of Jaisalmer
Dr. Rajshri Shastri
A college team of 20 Sociology and Social Work students from Institute of Excellence for Higher Education (IEHE), accompanied by me and another colleague, arrived at Jaisalmer in Rajasthan by train from Bhopal. We were on a short-duration study tour in the last week of February. The most important part of our itinerary was a visit to the Jaisalmer Fort on the southern edge of Jaisalmer and a camel safari in the Thar desert, which the students were really looking forward to.
On day two, we left for an overnight camel safari and the entire team had an amazing time in the midst of sand dunes and the vast expanse of Thar Desert that glowed and left us mesmerized with the changing hues of the twilight hour.
At the start of our safari, few of us preferred to hop on three separate jeeps that were at our disposal, the rest of the team members chose the adventure of a camel ride. In all there were 11 camels exclusively for the students.
Once the camels returned to the camp site for the night halt, it was time for them to rest. After everyone had got down, the camels sat down and the howdahs, or the carriages positioned on their back, were removed.
While everyone was sharing their experience and enjoying tea, out of curiosity and certain affection, I was just carried to the spot where the huge animals were resting. Coming closer, I noticed that one of them was in great pain and there were tears rolling down its eyes. Getting closer, I saw a wound on his head, there was another that ran down its neck. These were open wounds and there were maggots and flies. For a while, I used my stole to keep the flies away but that was no solution. Other camels too were suffering. There were a few with injured legs and a couple of them had ripped and bleeding noses. I felt so helpless as I was unable to do anything. As it started getting dark, I had to join my team. Before calling it a day, I resolved to help the hapless animals. Next morning, I saw crows picking maggots from their wounds. Instead of confronting the camel keeper, I chose to win his confidence by talking to him politely. I took down his details. He was from Damodar vilage. He also told me that he owned 70 camels. When asked whether he was giving proper treatment to his camels whenever they were injured, he nodded in agreement adding that they were folloing the practice of burning the wounds. I offered help and and asked whether he will take his camels for medical treatment and a proper dressing of their wounds, he said “why not” and gave me his mobile number.
His assurance notwithstanding, what perturbed me immensely was the camel handler’s response to another query. On being asked what if the wounds gets aggravated, he said with a rustic air of detachment that he would just leave the camel in the vast open desert to die (a slow and lonely death).
I had to intervene beyond just words at this point. So I managed to get hold of a People for Animals (PFA) activist’s cellphone number and a team of veterinary experts was arranged to attend to the wounded camels. Strangely, the Camel keeper did not honour the appointment. This I learnt upon returning to Bhopal. In the meanwhile, a message had been sent to Union Minister Ms. Maneka Sanjay Gandhi informing her about the plight of the camels. She was very prompt in extending help and a team of veterinary experts was immediately sent to Damodar village on her instructions for treating the camels.
I am so happy as I got a call from Jaisalmer yesterday to inform me that the camels have received treatment and were recovering. It is my humble appeal that people should be sensitive towards these voiceless animals. They should ask the handlers to be kind to these gentle giants as they pull the rope rein so hard that their nose starts bleeding – more due to worn-out nose pegs. The bosal bridle used to control and handle the camels also end up injuring them.
The author is Professor of Sociology at IEHE, Bhopal. She works for the cause of animals and is also a passionate birder and has done major research on the status of Lesser florican. This endangered biird is found in a small area in western Madhya Pradesh. She has also co-produced the documentary Water Birds of Bhopal.