The population of camels in India – at one time the third largest in the world – is on the decline. The Thar Desert of Rajasthan is their homeland. It provides them an adequate and ideal vegan diet along with climatic conditions that they require to thrive and remain healthy.
However, growing urban areas – industrialisation together with pressure on agricultural land, has led to the loss of the camels’ natural grazing land. Illegal slaughter for meat is another reason why their population is dipping.
A 1997 survey put the population of camels in Rajasthan at nearly 700,000. In 2003 there was a decline of about 23% (bringing down the number to 498,000) and another decline of 18% in 2007 when the last camel census was undertaken. So by 2012 it was not surprising that only 4,21,836 camels were said to be left in the state although the NRCC (National Research Centre on Camel) earlier stated that on the last count India had 5,17,000 camels. They also stated that only 8,800 of the Mewari breed – which is dwindling fast – are left and they are the ones that are good for milk production with an average of 7-8 litres per day, as compared to Jaisalmeri or Bikaneri breeds which produce on an average only 5-6 litres of milk per day.
In 2014, the Lokhit Pashu Palak Santhan (a NGO in Rajasthan that promotes camels and their produce) declared that the camel population had fallen from 4 lakh to 2 lakh in the state and it was imperative for the milk be legally sold.
In India camels are native to Rajasthan and Gujarat; their physiology is suited to a dry desert climate (hot day, cool night) because they can go for long periods without drinking water and their padded feet are suited to soft desert sands. Camels therefore find it difficult to walk long distances and adjust to humid climatic conditions since they are desert animals. During the monsoon, most of them get contagious diseases such as anthrax and suffer and die, often without the required medical treatment.
Camels are put under great stress: made to give “joy-rides” to many adults and children, and are frequently taken in processions where loud crackers are burst and there is a lot of commotion. When exhausted, they collapse and cry out in pain, but are forcefully pulled forward with ropes strung through the metal rings in their nostrils.