Photo: Men at the camel market in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi

Men chat at the camel market in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi.

Photograph by Dave Yoder, National Geographic

By Carl Hoffman

The Bawadi Mall in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, is big and brand new, and like any good mall it’s got everything you pretty much could ever want. Need a toy? There’s a Toys"R"Us. A hip but inexpensive new skirt? H&M has you covered. A hammer for that home improvement project? Ace Hardware to the rescue. A camel? Sure, head behind the mall for the last camel market in Abu Dhabi.

The rows of wire pens let you compare and contrast the animals. The show camels are black, the racing camels are tan and thin-hipped and long-legged, and the milk camels are round of belly. The bull, breeding camels are huge, thick-necked ornery beasts roaring and complaining and showing a lot of teeth. The cutest are the babies, some just days old and still wobbly-legged and wide-eyed. And on this day, a curly haired newborn, still so fresh it can’t stand.

Emirati buyers in white dishdashas and designer shades peruse the choices and load new purchases into trucks, while handlers wearing shalwar kameez squat in the sand, eager to show visitors around and jaw a bit, trying to make a sale.

“This is a milk camel, $3,000 for you, my friend,” says Aziz Sadrauf Khan, from Khost, Afghanistan, home to many camel handlers. “This black one, a beauty! Very nice, and she is pregnant! For you, $20,000!” Khan is full of talk and tales, until silenced by stunning news about a great American shortfall: “What?” he says. “There are no camel markets in the U.S.A.?”

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