Camels and camel products are in use for medical purpose in many countries across the Indian ocean. Stories about this animal were gathered and written by students. They are all part of a pedagogical project, funded by the National University of Singapore and the Université de Paris. The Bestiary site is a work-in-progress and a participatory educational tool, representing animals whose products or body parts are used to promote health and healing.

The Camel

A story by Irsyad Hamdi Bin Ismail

Growing up, I’ve heard many stories about my religion, a lot of them mentioning the camels as companions or aids thanks to their ability to provide both transport and nourishment to humans. While I haven’t seen one or have any particular interests in them, I’m taking this exercise to find out more and share what I have learned with everyone here.

Camels have been mentioned in many instances in the Quran and Hadiths (sayings of Prophet Muhammad PBUH), referring to them as miracles. In these retellings, the camels provide companionship in both nutrition and transport, due to their ability of crossing the desert thanks to their innate ability to withstand the blistering desert sun. It was also mentioned that these animals possessed medicinal properties which mended a lot of the wounds of people in the past. For example, it was mentioned that the hairs on a camel, when burnt, stops wounds from bleeding when applied. Additionally, the meat of the camel increases masculinity and prevents tiredness after intercourse (Musjidulhaq, 2016)

In modern times, camels are still used to fulfill the same purpose as they used to centuries ago. Camels are bred as livestock, providing both meat and milk to humans. Dishes involving camels are more exclusive within the cultures in the middle east (Arabic culture) as opposed to generally Muslim. Camel meat is popular in dishes served in countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Sudan (Indexbox, 2021). In these countries, camel meat are often served to commemorate significant occasions such as Eid (festival of breaking the fast). Camels are bred for their milk as well which are also largely produced because of the health benefits that have been found to be associated with its consumption. According to WebMD (2020), Camel milk is high in antioxidants, which help prevent damage to cells that could lead to cancer, diabetes and other heart diseases.

Fettered camel and keeper, Ascribed to Bizhad, Safavid period, late 15th century, Afghanistan, Freer Gallery of Art (Dromedary camel)
 
Camel and keeper, signed by Shaykh Muhammad, Safavid period, 1556-57 (964 A.H.), Iran, Freer Gallery of Art (Bactrian Camel)

Additionally, aside from camel milk, it was believed that camel urine also possessed medicinal properties that, when consumed, could heal ailments. Some people still share this sentiment and studies are being conducted to uncover whether its urine does possess capabilities as mentioned. The huge debate sparked is currently being held between western modern medicine and Islamic medicine specialists (USNews, 2015).

Moving away from livestock, camels also provide humans with clothing. Camels are groomed in the same way as sheep are. Its wool is sheared and made into clothing by native desert travelers to protect them from the heat (Cashmere, n.d). However, camel wool and hair has made its way into modern fashion. Luxury fashion brands such as Alexander McQueen and Off-White are selling camel coats upwards of £1000 (Southan, 2021). High-end fashion usually trickles down to influence fast-fashion, and it can be assumed that the demand for clothing pieces made from camel hair is expected to increase in the future.

Initially, I did not know much about camels aside from the fact that they are able to withstand the heat of the deserts because of their biological make up, but after doing my research for this discussion, camels are pretty amazing! It’s slowly making its way up my list of favourite animals.

 

 

Camel (dromedary) with his rider (Pushkar, Rajasthan, India, 2018) © Leo Jalais

Value in Asian medicine

The camel is used for transport, clothing, and agriculture as well as traditional medicine, according to the belief of middle easterners. In this post, I will dive deeper on the nonhuman and its contribution to modern medicine as well as it’s utilities when it comes to medicinal practices.

After researching more on camels, it was found that the camel is a potential carrier of a type of coronavirus. First identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is a viral respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus (WHO, 2019). MERS-Cov was considered a Zoonosis, which is any disease that is naturally transmissible from animals to humans (WHO, 2020). There were uncertainties as to where the virus came from, but likely the culprit were camels because those who were infected with MERS had reported past interactions with camels. Due to this fact, an investigation on camels was then conducted to ascertain whether the animal was a potential carrier of the coronavirus, especially after a Saudi Arabian camel owner was infected. Subsequent investigations revealed that the camel in question had tested positive for the MERS-CoV, which ultimately labelled the nonhuman as a carrier of the virus (CIDRAP, 2013).

The MERS-CoV virus was then referred to by the casual term “Camel Flu” because of the possibility of contracting the virus from the nonhuman. During the Camel Flu outbreak, more than 1600 people were infected, and a large percentage of the cases were fatal, approximately 600 deaths (Hiddleston, 2015). To minimize the outbreak and contain the virus, the interaction between humans and camels was minimized through measures such as enhanced quarantine and biosecurity measures (idem). The economic and cultural significance of this nonhuman on middle easterners makes the resolution, quite possibly, a sensitive issue.

Due to the isolation and efforts to minimize interaction between humans and camels, the livelihood of those in the Middle East was affected. Mentioned in my previous forum post, camels offer people in the middle east a lot of utility; they are a source of food, mode of transport, resource for clothing and even a form of entertainment (Ali, 2018). With the MERS-CoV pandemic and the measures introduced to minimize it, the livelihood for a lot of people in the Middle East will be affected as seen by how societies across Africa and Middle East rely on this animal for milk, meat, weddings and wealth (Kushner, 2021).

In 2021, with the COVID-19 pandemic being prevalent, the fear that the MERS virus emerges again has caused panic among scientists, who are once again taking preventive measures to mitigate the spread of MERS-CoV, which is said to be 10 times more deadly than COVID-19 (Kushner, 2021). This will once again be disruptive to livelihoods. In Kenya, most camel milk is consumed raw as a cultural drink, which increases the risk of the disease spreading (idem). Previously, it was argued that camel milk possessed health benefits, but with the risk of contracting a virus attached to its consumption, the line becomes clearer.[MK1] 

Folio from Aja’ib al-makhluqat (Wonders of Creation), Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (d. 1283), early 15th century, Iraq or Eastern Turkey, Freer Gallery of Art, representing: Bactrian Camel (al-Bukhti), Man/Bear (Mutawallid bayan al-Insan wa al-Dubb).
Camel (Ibil), from Aja’ib al-makhluqat (Wonders of Creation), Zakariyya ibn Muhammad al-Qazwini (d. 1283), early 15th century, Iraq or Eastern Turkey, Freer Gallery of Art (Dromedary camel)
Rerences
Ali, S. (2018, July 2). Why Camels Are Important to Emirati Culture”. Culture Trip. 
CIDRAP. (2013, November 12).  “Camel with MERS-CoV had signs of illness”. Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. 
Hiddleston, S. (2015, December 21). “Camel flu is at the centre of MERS outbreaks”. Nature. Middle East.
Kushner, J. (2021, January 26). Why camels are worrying coronavirus hunters”. British Broadcasting Corporation. 
WHO. (2019, March 11). Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)”. World Health Organization. 
WHO. (2020, July 29). “Zoonoses”. World Health Organization.
Boyer. (2015, June 10). “Stop drinking camel urine – World Health Organization says”. US News. 
Brennan. (2020, December 17). “Health Benefits of Camel Milk”. WebMD. 
Facts. (n.d.). Cashmere. Retrieved December 3, 2021, from  https://www.cashmere.org/facts.php
“Which country eats the most camel meat in the world?” (2021, February 15). IndexBox.  
Significance of camel in Islam. (2016, August 04). Musjidulhaq, (retrieved December 3, 2021). 
Southan, A. (2021, January 5). Best camel coats. Harpers Bazaar.