For years, Saudi Arabia has been criticized for refusing to take in Syrian refugees. Instead of allowing them to find refuge in Saudi Arabia, in 2016, the government provided $75 million in aid the refugees. That seems like a mere pittance, compared to what the owner of a beautiful camel might take home in prize money in the annual King Abdulaziz Festival, located in the desert, only one and a half hours outside of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Every year, tens of thousands travel to this location to watch winners take home an estimated $57 million in prize money, with much of those winnings going to the most attractive camel.

The King Abdulaziz Festival Camels Competition, often referred to as Miss Camel globally, is an annual heritage festival held in Rimah, a governorate in Riyadh province. It was founded in 1999 by a group of local Bedouins who decided to host a competition for the most beautiful camel.

The competition went on to receive support from the Saudi royal family. Due to its rising popularity, it was turned into a heritage festival with people from across the Gulf traveling to showcase their finest camels. Celebrating the culture and way of life of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Bedouin traditions, today the festival attracts thousands of camels and their owners.

Some pageant contestants hit a hump in the road this week. That is, a camel beauty contest in Saudi Arabia disqualified a dozen camels for receiving Botox injections to make them more attractive.

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Saudi media reported that a veterinarian was caught performing plastic surgery on the camels a few days before the pageant, according to UAE’s The National. In addition to the injections, the clinic was surgically reducing the size of the animals’ ears to make them appear more delicate.

“They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw,” Ali Al Mazrouei, a regular at such festivals and the son of a prominent Emirati breeder, told the newspaper. “It makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh look at how big that head is. It has big lips, a big nose.’ ”

Real money is at stake: About $57 million is awarded to winners of the contests and camel races, The National reports, with more than $31.8 million in prizes for just the pageants.

The beauty contest, launched in 2000, is a centerpiece of the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival. Last year, authorities moved the festival from a remote location in the desert to a site an hour and a half from Riyadh, and this year attendance has increased by a third, according to Reuters.

Saudi men stand next to camels as they participate in King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Rimah Governorate, north-east of Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 19, 2018. Picture taken January 19, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser

The festival provides a number of informative graphics about camels, including a diagram titled Standards of Camel Beauty. It is sadly unspecific about what makes for handsome nostrils and withers, though it does mention a “leathery mouth.”

Camel owner Ali Obaid told The National that cheaters will get creative to get an edge and will alter an animal’s appearance for months before it’s sold to a buyer.

“For example, they start to pull the lips of the camel, they pull it by hand like this every day to make it longer,” he explained to the newspaper. “Secondly, they use hormones to make it more muscular and Botox makes the head bigger and bigger. Everyone wants to be a winner.” –NPR


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