Do the participants of Turkey's annual Camel Wrestling Festival enjoy it as much as the audience?

 

On Sunday, more than 20,000 people will gather in Turkey to watch camels do battle in a spectacle that dates back thousands of years. It is, depending on your attachment to the ungainly beasts, a historic cultural institution to be celebrated – or a throwback to an era before animal-rights campaigns when it was OK to starve an animal for three months to make it cross.

The annual Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival is a fixture on the Turkish sporting calendar and, increasingly, a major draw for tourists to the country's southern Aegean coast. First practised by Turkic tribes more than 2,400 years ago, the sport angers animal-welfare groups but is big business for organisers.

"We are continuing the tradition of our ancestors," says Mehmet Falakali, one of the brains behind the festival, who has attended the event every year since Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism launched it in its current form in 1982. "It's a gathering, we mingle, it has a picnic feel about it."

Falakali says the festival will attract a broad demographic including tourists, as well as 140 spitting Tulu wrestling camels bred especially for fighting. The animals are divided into different categories depending on their weight and age. "There are also lefty and righty camels that only wrestle with each other," Falakali says.

Fighting tactics vary. Some camels try simply to trip opponents with a foot (a move called cengelci), while others push their competitors to force a retreat (tekci). Some snare their rival's head under their chest and then try to sit (bagci). The camel that doesn't get scared and run away is the winner. Those with staying power can be traded for tens of thousands of pounds.

Camels competing in a Camel Wrestling Championship in Bergama, Turkey (Alamy) Camels competing in a Camel Wrestling Championship in Bergama, Turkey (Alamy)
Duels, which are replicated at similar festivals in Turkey and the wider region, last five minutes at most but can be violent. Turkey's three-month fighting season coincides with a fertile period for female camels, when males are inclined to attack their mating rivals. Camels can be starved for months in advance to make them irritated, and can be goaded during battle with sticks wielded by their owners.

Last year, Turkish animal-welfare groups pointed out that the fights are now technically illegal according to the country's animal-rights laws. "It is a clear crime to make animals wrestle," Ege Sakin of the Animal Rights Federation of Istanbul told Turkey's Today's Zaman newspaper. "Municipalities acquire special permission for such events from the district governors' offices under the cover of festivals."

Burak Ozguner of the Freedom to Earth Association, also based in Turkey, agreed that tradition was no excuse for an exemption in the law. "Animals should be seen as creatures, not as objects of entertainment," he said.

Falakali says organisers at Selcuk have listened to the concerns. "The camels have their mouths covered up to prevent them from hurting each other," he says. "If there is a risk of injury, the referee stops the wrestling. There is even a team of 22 people on standby to protect the camels."

The annual Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival is increasingly a major draw for tourists to the country's southern Aegean coast (Alamy) The annual Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival is increasingly a major draw for tourists to the country's southern Aegean coast (Alamy)
Spectators who travel to the event or watch the hundreds of clips that circulate online are treated to a peculiar spectacle. In one fight, a knobbly-kneed warrior twists and turns while a female camel entices the males with her long eyelashes. Foamy saliva often spurts from the mouths of excited males – a potential hazard for spectators who get too close.

Unlike the losing camels, Falakali, who is 60, won't have the hump come Sunday afternoon, when the stadium starts to empty. He says more than 200,000 Turkish lira (about £55,000) has been invested in this year's event. Despite the concerns of animal-welfare groups, he enjoys nothing more than to see the satisfaction on festivalgoers' faces. "When the people leave happy having experienced the old customs and traditions, I am happy," he says. "When more and more countries hear about the festival, this makes me happy too."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
President Obama, one of the more enthusiastic users of the fist bump
science
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
tv
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
News
Kristen Stewart and Rupert Sanders were pictured embracing in 2012
people
Sport
Mario Balotelli posed for this selfie during AC Milan's 5-1 defeat to Manchester City
sport
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth Games
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + ents
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
Extras
indybestSpice up your knife with our selection of delicious toppings
Sport
sport
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Horticulture Lecturer / Tutor / Assessor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: As a result of our successf...

Retail Lecturer / Assessor / Tutor - Derbyshire

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

Business Studies Tutor / Assessor / Lecturer - Tollerton

£15 - £18 per hour: Randstad Education Nottingham: Randstad Education are succ...

ERP Business/ Implementation Analyst

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: This is an e...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried