Animal rights activists slam Turkish camel wrestling festival

Story by ReutersPublished 16th January 2022
Camels wrestle each other at during the 40th Selcuk Ephesus Camel Wrestling Festival in the town of Selcuk of Izmir, Turkiye on January 16, 2022.
(Reuters) — A traditional camel wrestling festival in western Turkey that attracts thousands of people every year is drawing criticism from animal rights activists who say the big ruminants are abused and injured during the event.
The 40th International Camel Wrestling Festival was held in Selcuk, part of the Aegean province of Izmir, on Sunday with 152 camels sporting saddles and ornamental cloths and embroidery of various patterns and colors on their humps and necks.
The camels are brought into a sandy arena to tangle with each other, with referees and other personnel nearby, although they are made to wear muzzles to prevent bite wounds.
Thousands of people set up tables and chairs on a hill adjacent to the arena and cook on barbecues, eat and drink while they watch the animals go at it.
A man tries to stop a camel during the 40th Selcuk Ephesus Camel Wrestling Festival in Turkey.
A man tries to stop a camel during the 40th Selcuk Ephesus Camel Wrestling Festival in Turkey.
Elif Ozturk Ozgoncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Gulgun Hamamcioglu, the Izmir representative for the Animal Rights Federation (HAYTAP), said goading animals to fight each other was a "big crime."
"Please let's all together stop this picture of shame, this scene that makes us ashamed of humanity," Hamamcioglu said.
Mehmet Falakali, former head of the tourism ministry's Selcuk office, said the camels cannot seriously hurt each other and there were personnel to separate them if clashes become too intense.
People watch while camels wrestle each other.
People watch while camels wrestle each other.
Elif Ozturk Ozgoncu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
"The people who are tasked with separating the camels pull them away from each other when the referee sees a (negative development)," he said.
"There is certainly nothing such as their breaking each others' hooves or biting each other," added Falakali, who has helped organize the festival for the past 35 years.
Necip Cotura, who has three camels and participates in the festival as a hobby, said the event was a longtime tradition. "It is something that is done with love. It is not a fight, it is wrestling - just like how humans wrestle," he said.
Yahya Yavuz, another participant, said his family takes care of their four camels like their children and that his camels would not hurt others.