The world’s only swimming camels, the Kharai were bred by the thousands by the Rabari and Jat community of camel herders.
By Shrey Kumar
Amidst the stringent laws of nature, exist certain miracles that have the power to confound us beyond measure. One of these wondrous creations of nature is the swimming camels of Kutch. Residing in the diverse land of Kutch, the Kharai breed of camels is one-of-a-kind. These animals swim over 3 kilometres to the islands off the coast of Kutch, where they feed on lush mangroves over a 3-4 day long stay. They then swim all the way back, with their herders in tow, to the vast desert that is their home.
Not only are these camels capable of swimming, but they are also able to survive on saltwater – which is where the name ‘Kharai’ comes from. The world’s only swimming camels, the Kharai were bred by the thousands by the Rabari and Jat community of camel herders. These two communities believe that Kharai camels originated from the sea, as did they. This is why they have dedicated their lives to the health and well being of the magnificent animals.
However, with the growth of industrialization and depletion of mangroves – their main source of food – their populations have dwindled radically. In fact, there were only 2,000 Kharai camels left in 2012. Painfully close to extinction, these camels deserve careful human intervention to maintain their fodder supply, health, and numbers.
How to save the only swimming camels of the world
Thankfully, the government and other stakeholders of the wildlife preservation space have recognized that the extinction of Kharai camels would be a great setback to the vibrant culture of Kutch. Here’s looking at the measures that are being taken to preserve the swimming camels of Kutch.
Preservation of mangroves
As mentioned above, rapid industrialization is leading to the depletion of mangroves. After the major earthquake of Gujarat, the mining, cement, and windmill industries, among others, intensified their operations in a bid to rebuild Kutch. This disturbed the ecosystem wherein Kharai camels were thriving. Their routes changed and food intake decreased considerably.
To save the Kharai camels, we must save their natural habitat. Since it is clear that they can only survive on mangroves, preserving their ecosystem is the need of the hour. Fortunately, the large-scale benefits of mangrove are being understood and the government is taking significant steps to conserve them. Several mangrove forests in the area have been designated as protected areas, where they are undergoing special care to continue sustained growth.
Promoting camel breeding
Several camel breeders, distraught with the damage done to the ecosystem, have given up their traditional practices of rearing and protecting Kharai camels. Thus, camels have not only lost their fodder but also the companions that stood by them for centuries. To upturn this situation, several new-age start-ups are coming into the picture to provide the much-needed external support that Kharai Maldharis require.
Innovative start-ups are tying up with camel herders to process and package camel milk for commercial sales. Such start-ups directly deal with camel breeders of the desert states and take camel milk in huge quantities. In doing so, they are not only providing a steady source of income for camel breeders but also contributing to the protection and proliferation of Kharai camels.
By protecting their habitat and growing their populations in a sustainable manner, we can make sure that Kharai camels continue to thrive. Hoards these majestic animals will, then, be seen swimming through the saline waters of Kutch for decades to come.
(The author is Co-founder, Aadvik Foods. Views expressed are the author’s own.)