For 20 years the Wild Camel Protection Foundation has been working to protect the critically endangered double-humped wild camel in the Gobi desert in China and Mongolia from extinction. This year, we decided to run a camel race day to raise funds for the hay, which keeps the 22 wild camels alive during the severe Mongolian winter at our wild camel breeding centre. Hay is not cheap. It does not grow near the desert and has to be carted almost 1200 miles – the final cost is in excess of $9,000.
Joseph Fossett, a good friend who keeps domestic Dromedary and Bactrian camels at Idlicote, Warwickshire, England agreed to bring the camels to Hole Park in Rolvenden, Kent thanks to a kind invitation from Edward and Claire Barham. September weather had been kind throughout the month but the clouds gathered on the morning of the 23rd, the day of the races. These clouds brought rain – in huge quantities. Through the teeming rain, intrepid wild camel supporters turned up – almost 1000 of them.
We determined to carry on. The Mongolian wrestlers and singers arrived early, although the archer had left his arrows behind in Nottingham, but as for the camels – word got around that they were stuck on the motorway in their camel box near Heathrow Airport.
The Mongolians wrestled manfully in their loincloths as the rain poured down. The singers and instrumentalists crooned their songs of love and lament as the waters swirled around them.
At three o’ clock, the time scheduled for the first race, the camel box finally trundled up the drive followed by the racing pigs in a trailer. Huge sighs of relief. Miraculously as it did so, for the very first time that day the rain stopped. Out came the pigs and raced away while the camels took a breather to get their wind back and snatch a quick snack. At 3.30 pm when they were due to take the field, all were ready except for one. The grumpy and disgruntled Safari, who was distinctly out of sorts. He had had enough of the camel box, the motorway and all members of the human race and he certainly let us know just how he felt.
When the other jockeys were mounted and at the starting tape, Safari was facing stubbornly in the wrong direction, squatting down, bellowing and refusing to budge. A female jockey had drawn the short straw and was riding Safari, but as soon as the race started, and the three other camels were a quarter of the way down the course, Safari got up swivelled round, and set off after them at a gallop. He overtook the entire field and won. When someone else rode him in the next heat he won again and then again in the final.
In spite of the weather, the Wild Camel Protection Foundation made over three quarters of the money needed to buy winter hay.