Jaisalmer is full of tour operators enticing visitors with the offer of desert safaris and camel rides, but most people overlook the simple question ‘is camel riding ethical?’. In recent years Asian countries have come under scrutiny for offering unethical animal experiences, with elephant rides in particular being heavily criticised as animal cruelty. Tour operators in Jaisalmer insist that camel rides are ethical and that the camels are well looked after, but sadly that isn’t the case. Camel riding isn’t something exclusive to Jaisalmer, with rides available around the world – from the Egyptian Pyramids in Giza to the Australian Outback. Just because it’s possible to ride camels in a number of countries doesn’t mean it’s not animal cruelty though, especially when you consider elephant rides are still offered in many countries. So over the course of this article we’ll explain why when you ask the question ‘is camel riding ethical?’, the answer is a resounding no.
If you’re reading this article then there’s a good chance you have doubts about riding a camel, and we urge you to trust your gut and avoid doing so.
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Camel rides in Jaisalmer
Camel rides are consistently recommended as one of the top things to do in Jaisalmer, and are often seen as a way to briefly experience an ‘authentic’ part of desert life. Even Lonely Planet provide information on their website about arranging your own camel ride when in Jaisalmer.
It’s almost easy to think that travel bloggers and reputable brands such as Lonely Planet wouldn’t recommend taking a camel ride unless it was ethically sound. In our experience, most websites don’t even touch on whether they’re ethical at all and simply recommend them blindly.
Before our visit to Jaisalmer we did some research to see whether riding a camel there is ethical, but we struggled to find any reliable information. We had doubts about whether an animal encounter like this could be ethical, so we ended up trusting our gut and not doing it ourselves.
Is camel riding unethical?
There’s a wealth of information as to why elephant riding is extremely unethical and constitutes animal cruelty. Considering this, the question you must ask yourself is ‘why should camels be treated differently to elephants?’
If riding an elephant is unethical, then surely by extension so is riding a camel – regardless of how much information there is about it or what anyone tells you. There are a few articles that discourage camel rides in Jaisalmer, but the vast majority of websites recommend them as one of the best things to do.
It’s hard to make an informed decision if the necessary information isn’t given to you, and when we researched the issue nothing was telling us that camel riding in Jaisalmer is 100% unethical. But then again, there was nothing to prove it was ethical either.
Camels that are used to give rides to tourists are stripped of their freedom and used by locals as a means of making money. They often aren’t looked after properly, for example we saw camels in the middle of the desert with their legs tied together to prevent them from escaping.
If camels were being treated well and were happy to give rides to tourists, why would they need to have their legs tied together to be kept against their will?
For camels to be suitable for riding they first need to be trained. In most instances this involves beating the camels with sticks and whips, as well as chaining, muzzling and overloading them.
Although there is a lack of information regarding how camels are trained specifically in Jaisalmer, it’s likely these practices extend to the area too. There’s no justification for treating any animal in such a way purely for the benefit of tourism.
There are also instances of camels being mistreated as adults too, being overworked and beaten. PETA reported on an incident in Egypt where 3 people were arrested for beating camels with sticks.
While these practices haven’t necessarily been observed in Jaisalmer, if some camels require this treatment to be willing to let humans ride them, then how can you know this isn’t happening?
These camels are being stripped of their freedom, for the sole purpose of making money for tour operators. Camel rides are nothing more than a tourist gimmick, aimed at convincing travellers to part with their money. Tour operators that offer camel rides have no concern for the welfare of these animals.
Anyone who truly thought about the wellbeing of these camels would not hold them against their will by tying their legs up. If the camels were truly happy with this way of life then they would stay through their own choice.
The sad reality is that these camels are forced to give rides to tourists day after day, week after week and so on. Their entire lives are spent walking the same routes in order for their owners to profit. It may be a quick ride for you, but for the camel it’s a lifetime of misery.
Why ride a camel anyway?
Even if camel rides were ethical, what do you actually get out of them? In almost every instance you will have pretty much exactly the same experience whether you ride a camel or not. The main difference is that if you ride a camel you’ll have a bit more of a bumpy ride and have to deal with an uncomfortable seat!
Riding a camel doesn’t give you access to special areas in Jaisalmer, or any of the other tourist destinations such as Giza in Egypt. So why pay money to fund animal cruelty, when you could just explore these incredible places without riding a camel at all.
At the end of the day it’s purely a tourist gimmick, and it really isn’t worth the time. You don’t need to ride a camel for the ‘ultimate desert experience’ or to make the pyramids more interesting.
Ask yourself if riding a camel in the desert actually going to make your trip any better. Like we said, you’ll see exactly the same things regardless of whether you ride a camel or not.
Alternatives to camel rides in Jaisalmer
Hopefully you’ve come to the conclusion that riding a camel isn’t ethical and that you’re going to avoid doing so, whether it’s in Jaisalmer or anywhere else in the world.
Fortunately it’s still possible to take a desert safari in Jaisalmer without riding a camel, all you have to do is ask. Most operators don’t openly advertise this option, as the camel ride is seen as something unique to entice tourists, but a number of companies we spoke to said they could arrange trips without camel rides.
We personally booked a jeep safari with Ganesh Travels, and although they do offer camel rides, they respected our decision to not want this included on our tour.
If you have any doubt in your mind about whether any animal encounter is ethical, then we always recommend avoiding it. At the end of the day it’s better to not get to do something than contribute to animal exploitation and cruelty anywhere in the world.
For some more tips on ethical animal counters, we recommend reading this guide to being a compassionate traveller by PETA.
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