Camel Beauty Competitions Turn Ugly Amid Scandal

Cheaters were revealed at Saudi Arabia’s biggest annual King Abdulaziz Camel Festival yet, resulting in 12 disqualifications from the wildly popular camel beauty competition. Veterinarians were caught performing plastic surgery and administering Botox injections to the contestants, whose owners will be unable to enter another beauty contest for five years and who will be responsible for a serious fine.

One might wonder how an animal with such shapely humps and pouty lips as the camel could benefit from Botox injections and plastic surgery; just like celebrities do. “They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw,” Ali Al Mazrouei, a regular festival patron and son of a prominent Emirati breeder, told The National. “It makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh look at how big that head is. It has big lips, a big nose.’”

It seems that many Saudi Arabian breeders are pushed to drastic measures in the face of $31.8 million prizes. Another $25 million is also awarded to camel race winners during the month-long festival. The extravaganza attracts thousands of merrymakers, 30,000 camel contestants, elite breeders, as well as vendors and artists displaying camel sculptures or selling camel milk.

Who’s the Fairest of Them All?

In the past, these animals were the key to life in the harsh Saudi Arabian deserts as they offered transportation, milk, and meat. The festival is named after King Abdulaziz who is said to have united Arabia from the back of a camel. While the “ships of the desert” are still a symbol of the country, they are venerated in a new way. The organizers of the contest provide a diagram on their website named Standards of Camel Beauty, outlining just what makes a pretty camel.

  • Leathery mouth
  • Big, drooping lips
  • Large head
  • Tall at the withers
  • Long neck
  • Big nose
  • Ears small, round, and angled downward
  • Fluffy hump

Contestants have been creative in upping their chances of winning, possibly landing themselves within violation of the kingdom’s animal welfare laws. Fawzan al-Madi, the head judge of the contest, says “This year some of the camel’s lips were tied down to make them dangle, so they were tied down for days before the competition and we managed to find that out and they also had injected their lips with anesthetic to also have them dangle down more,” al-Madi says. “Secondly, they use hormones to make it more muscular and Botox makes the head bigger and bigger. Everyone wants to be a winner.”

While Botox was used to inflate the head, the plastic surgery was necessary for making the ears look round and delicate. The medical team charged with detecting artificial aesthetics will not allow the good name of the festival—or of the camel itself—to be sullied by frauds.

“The camel,” chief judge al-Madi says, “is a symbol of Saudi Arabia. We used to preserve it out of necessity. Now we preserve it as a pastime.”

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