(photo credit: JPOST STAFF)
More than 50,000 camels are taking part in Saudi Arabia's annual month-long King Abdulaziz camel festival, which is this year offering a record 115 million riyals ($31 million) in prize money for camel beauty contests.
The festival features daily auctions in which camels can fetch anything from 15,000 ($4,000) for an ordinary domestic animal to a million riyals ($270,000) for a prize specimen.
"We, and the Bedouin in general, gather and meet here at the festival, camel merchants come here and buy our camels and they take part in the festival, which is a kind of support for all of society," said camel breeder Mehsi al-Dossary.
Around 10,000 international visitors were expected to attend, some of them top breeders from the Gulf region bringing their best animals to show.
The festival was founded in 1999 by local Bedouins who wanted to stage a camel beauty contest. Thanks to support from the Saudi royal family, it has expanded into a broader heritage exhibition covering 30 sq km (12 sq miles) of the ad-Dhna desert.
In addition to the serious business of buying, selling and showing camels, there are opportunities to seek out professional handlers for advice on riding and camel care. There is also an exhibition on the role of camels in Saudi history and culture, as well as camel-themed art and poetry competitions.
This year's festival aims for the first time to attract families, with a range of activities for children. It runs until April 15.