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

Mallika Sarabhai releases speech she was 'not allowed' to give at NID Convocation on Feb 7

Counterview Desk
The National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, a Ministry of Commerce and Industry body, landed itself in controversy following its decision to put off its 40th convocation ceremony, where noted danseuse Mallika Sarabhai was invited as chief guest. The ceremony was scheduled to be held on February 7.

Modi, Shah 'forget': Gandhi’s first Satyagraha was against citizenship law of South Africa

By Nachiketa Desai*
Hindu fanatic Nathuram Godse assassinated Mahatma Gandhi once on January 30, 1948 but his followers raising the war cry of ‘Jai Sriram’ are killing the Mahatma every day. In his home state of Gujarat, Gandhiji was killed a thousand times in 2002 when over 2,000 Muslims were butchered, their women raped, homes and shops plundered and set on fire and even unborn babies ripped out of the wombs of their mothers.

As corona virus 'travels' to rural areas, NGO begins training tribals, marginalised women

By Souparno Chatterjee*
The World Health Organization (WHO) has declared corona virus a pandemic. Originating from Wuhan in China, it has traversed the entire globe, almost, and claimed more than 16,000 lives already. That’s largely the urban population. In India, despite all the preparedness and war-like promptness to safeguard against the pandemic, several lives have been lost , and hundreds of individuals have tested positive.

Rani Laxmi Bai, Tatya Tope 'martyred' by East India Company, Scindia's forefathers

By Our Representative
In an email alert to Counterview, well-known political scientist Shamsul Islam has said that was “shameful for any political party in democratic India to keep children of Sindhias in their flock” given their role during the First War of Indian Independence (1857). In a direct commentary on Madhya Pradesh Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia moving over to BJP, Prof Islam has quote from a British gazetteer to prove his point.

COVID-19: Dalit rights bodies regret, no relief plan yet for SCs, STs, marginalized

By Our Representative
In a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the National Dalit Watch-National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights, endorsed* by several other Dalit rights organizations, have insisted, the Government of India should particular care of the scheduled castes and tribes, trans folks, persons with disabilities and the women and children from these communities, while fighting against COVID-19 pandemic.

Big 'danger' of NPR: A babu can tag anyone as doubtful citizen, Jharkhand meet told

' By Our Representative
People in large numbers from across Jharkhand gathered at the Raj Bhawan in Ranchi to demand that the Hemant Soren government reject National Population Register (NPR) and stop all NPR-related activities. The people’s organisations which participated in the dharna under the banner of the Jharkhand Janadhikar Mahasabha (JMM) resolved to intensify their struggle, insisting, NPR is not a Hindu-Muslim issue but is essentially anti-poor.

Coronavirus scare ‘pushing’ people from Northeast India into more hardship

By Rishiraj Sinha, Biswanath Sinha*
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” – Nelson Mandela
***

Gujarat govt plan to 'banish' Gandhian activist anti-democratic, unconstitutional

By Rohit Prajapati*
The current Central and Gujarat governments, and their bureaucracy, have been and are still unable to answer and address the concerns raised, with facts, figures, and constitutional provisions, regarding the terror of tourism in the name of the Statue of Unity and tourism projects surrounding it.

Gujarat construction workers walk home as Rs 2,900 crore welfare fund lies unused

By Our Representative
Situated behind the Gujarat University, some of the families of the migrant construction workers from Dahod and Panchmahals districts of Gujarat, and a few from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, who had stayed put in make-shift shanties in Ahmedabad’s sprawling GMDC Ground, have begun a long journey, by foot, back to their home villages in the eastern tribal belt of Gujarat.