Skip to main content

Gujarat's "swimming camel" faces extinction, as Kutch's industrialization "eats up" mangroves, saline plants

By Tanushree Gangopadhyay*
Kharai camels, a unique species, which feeds on mangroves and other saline plants along the Kutch's coastal regions of Gujarat, is facing extinction. A main source of livelihood of Jat and Rabari communities in several of the villages of Mundra, Lakhpat, Abdasa and Bhachau taluka, one must go to the Gulf of Kutch to see the Kharai camel before it’s too late. One of its rare characteristics is, it can swim in the deep sea and travel in the desert.
Distinct from its relative, the Kachchi camel, the Kharai camel’s ears are woolly, slightly flattened at the tip and upright. They have small chests and medium-sized, gently padded feet that are well adapted for wet, sandy coastland. Their wool is smoother and finer than the Kachchi camels.
Bhikhabhai Vaghabhai Rabari, president of the Kachch Uth Uchher Maldhari Sangathan (KUUMS, or Kutch Camel Breeders Association), which is haplessly trying to save this species, tells me, “Only 2,000 Kharai camels now exist in all of Kutch district. A decade ago we had about 10,000 such camels.” The reasons, he adds, are beyond their control.
The problem, according to him, is that the mangrove belt, on which Kharai camel depends on for food and water, is being rapidly destroyed by industrialization and encroachment. Power plants, jetties, ports are all swallowing the camels' grazing area. And where the forest department plants mangroves, it does not allow camels to graze there.
Bhikhabhai, like other Rabaris, despairs at its dwindling numbers. The Maldharis are running around looking for food for the Kharai camels. “Our camels have no fodder left. The KUUMS approached the National Green Tribunal (NGT). It has restrained industries from ruining the coast but who is listening. A large number of Fakirani Jats moved southwards to Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Vadodara and settled in Aliyabet in Bharuch.”
About 600 kilometres way, Aliyabet in the delta of the Narmada river had good-quality grass for camels. But that, too, faces water problem now. With a dam being built upstream, potable water is no longer available. “So the Fakirani Jats returned to Kutch,” says Bhikabhai, adding, “An adult male camel consumes 20 to 49 litres of water daily.”
Currently, Bhikhabhai lives in Jangi village and has 100 Kharai camels. “I can recall five generations having these camels. Rabaris additionally rear cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep close to their homes. However, my camels are looked after by Fakirani Jats who keep them in the mangroves of Bhachau and move them to the land after the monsoons.”
In winter, the Kharai camels are taken to graze in the Banni grasslands, more than 100 kilometres away in Kutch district. The camels adjust to the humid climate of the coast and the arid climate of the interior.
“We do not build any permanent structures for the Kharai camels on the islands. During the three monsoon months, the camels swim to the bets in the mangroves to graze and quench their thirst. We leave them there. In summer and in winter they swim to the bets nearer the creek, where they stay for two or three days before returning to the mainland,” explains Bhikhabhai.
Though it produces less milk than the Kachchi camel, the Kharai milk has higher fat content and is considered therapeutic. Eighty-three-year-old Vadhubhai Andabhai Rabari says that when he was 45 he got pneumonia and was saved by Kharai camel milk. “The doctors gave up on me. But I survived by drinking this milk. Look how strong I am four decades later,” he says.
Despite awards, rewards and recognition being heaped on the Kharai camel, the poor animal is on its way to extinction. In 2015, the camel was recognised as a breed, explains Ramesh Bhatti of Sahjeevan Trust, which has helped to organise the KUUMS and works diligently with them.
“The Breed Registration Committee of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) certified the Kharai breed on January 6, 2015, after KUUMS applied for it. The Kharai camel has been registered as the ninth distinct camel breed of India by the ICAR. The KUUMS, the Anand Agriculture University, and my trust put in a lot of hard work to gain this recognition for the Kharai camel,” says Bhatti. The KUUMS is officially recognised as the owner of this unique breed.
Soon after, Vadodara’s Federation of Group Industries awarded KUUMS for proficiency in marketing camel milk. “Maneka Gandhi herself bestowed on me the award for dairying of camel milk,” says Bhikhabhai proudly. “Earlier, no one purchased camel milk. Amul buys 1,500 litres daily and some private dairies. The government has given Amul Rs 3 crore for developing dairying of camel milk,” he says.
In 2017 the National Bureau of Animal Genetics and Research (NBAGR) awarded the KUUMS the Breed Saviour Award which Bhikhabhai accepted gratefully in May 2018. Then the National Biodiversity Authority in Chennai awarded the KUMMS for conservation of the Kharai camel on National Biodiversity Day, May 22, this year. That too was humbly accepted. But none of this has changed the suffering of the Kharai camel.
Despite these efforts, the Kharai camels have limited access to veterinary services, as they live in remote areas. On July 9, KUUMS held an inoculation programme in Bhuj. It was attended by 1,600 camels, says Bhikhabhai.
---
*Senior journalist based in Ahmedabad

Comments

Anonymous said…
Industrialisation and Mangroves can’t grow together. Lions and industrialisations can’t stay together. Voters want development through industrialisation and urbanisation, people in general are not allowing the Agriculture to grow as profitable occupation, then what is the option left when you have votes every five yearly (2-3 yearly if you refer assembly and parliament elections) to retain the power. 😊

TRENDING

August 22 to be observed as Apostasy Day: International coalition of ex-Muslim groups

By Our Representative
In a unique move, an international coalition of ex-Muslim organisations has decided to observe August 22, 2020 as the Apostasy Day. To be observed for “the abandonment or renunciation of religion”, the coalition, calling upon people to join the call, said, the decision to observe the Apostasy Day has been taken because of apostasy is “punishable by death in Afghanistan, Iran, Malaysia, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, UAE, and Yemen.”

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

By Our Representative
Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book, "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

RSS' 25,000 Shishu Mandirs 'follow' factory school model of Christian missionaries

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*
The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences (IUAES) recently decided to drop the KISS University in Odisha as the co-host of the World Anthropology Congress-2023. The decision is driven by the argument that KISS University is a factory school.

India must recognise: 4,085 km Himalayan borders are with Tibet, not China

By Tenzin Tsundue, Sandeep Pandey*
There has as been a cancerous wound around India’s Himalayan neck ever since India's humiliating defeat during the Chinese invasion of India in 1962. The recent Galwan Valley massacre has only added salt to the wound. It has come to this because, when China invaded the neighbouring country Tibet in 1950, India was in high romance with the newly-established communist regime under Mao Zedong after a bloody revolution.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur*
Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Time to give Covid burial, not suspend, World Bank's 'flawed' Doing Business ranking

By Maju Varghese*
On August 27, the World Bank came out with a statement suspending the Doing Business Report. The statement said that a number of irregularities have been reported regarding changes to the data in the Doing Business 2018 and Doing Business 2020 reports, published in October 2017 and 2019. The changes in the data were inconsistent with the Doing Business methodology.

Delhi riots: Cops summoning, grilling, intimidating young to give 'false' evidence

Counterview Desk
More than 440 concerned citizens have supported the statement issued by well-known bureaucrat-turned-human rights activist Harsh Mander ‘We will not be silenced’ which said that the communal riots in Delhi in February 2020 have not been caused by any conspiracy, as alleged by the Delhi Police, but by “hate speech and provocative statements made by a number of political leaders of the ruling party.”

WHO chief ignores India, cites Pak as one of 7 top examples in fight against Covid-19

By Our Representative
In a move that would cause consternation in India’s top policy makers in the Modi government, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, World Health Organization (WHO) director-general, has singled out Pakistan among seven countries that have set “examples” in investing in a healthier and safer future in order to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tata Mundra: NGOs worry as US court rules World Bank can't be sued for 'damages'

By Kate Fried, Mir Jalal*
On August 24 evening, a federal court ruled that the World Bank Group cannot be sued for any damage caused by its lending, despite last year’s Supreme Court ruling in the same case that these institutions can be sued for their “commercial activity” in the United States.