Clone your camel: beauty pageants, races spur high demand

AFP
Cloning is in high demand in the competitive world of camel beauty pageants, leaving scientists at a Dubai clinic working round the clock to produce carbon-copy beasts.
AFP

Cloning is in high demand in the competitive world of camel beauty pageants, leaving scientists at a Dubai clinic working round the clock to produce carbon-copy beasts.

Not every animal is blessed with sought-after drooping lips and a tall, elegant neck, but technology now allows wealthy clients to replace their most beautiful camel with one just like it.

At the Reproductive Biotechnology Center, with views of the UAE city's towering skyscrapers, scientists pore over microscopes while dozens of cloned camels roam outside.

"We have so much demand for cloning camels that we are not able to keep up," said the center's scientific director Nisar Wani.

Beauty pageants are not the only driver of camel cloning. Many customers want to reproduce racing camels, or animals that produce large amounts of milk.

But "beauty queens" are the most popular order. Gulf clients will pay between 200,000 and 400,000 dirham (US$54,500-US$109,000) to duplicate a dromedary.

The camels are paraded at dusty racetracks around the region and scrutinized by judges, with occasional discoveries of Botox and cosmetic fillers adding a spice of scandal to the high-stakes contests.

Saud Al-Otaibi, who runs a camel auction in Kuwait, said customers' judgement of the animals' looks is key to his business.

"The price of the camel is determined according to its beauty, health, and how well known the breed is," he said.

When it comes to young animals, "customers are keen on seeing the mother to determine its beauty before buying the camel," he added.

Twelve years ago, Dubai claimed the world's first cloned camel.

Injaz, a female whose name means achievement in Arabic, was born on April 8, 2009, after more than five years of work by Wani and others.

From the minute Injaz was born, there was no going back. "We are now producing plenty, maybe more than 10 to 20 babies every year.

"This year we have 28 pregnancies (so far), last year we had 20," Wani said with pride.

The center is churning out "racing champions, high milk-producing animals ... and winners of beauty contests called Beauty Queens," added Wani, sitting in a lab next to the preserved body of a cloned camel in a glass container.

The "ships of the desert," once used for transport across the sands of the Arabian Peninsula, are symbols of traditional Gulf culture.

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