National Geographic : 1914 Jan
HERE AND THERE IN NORTHERN AFRICA bred near the coast have become more or less accustomed to drinking at frequent intervals and require water every two or three days. Those of the Sahara can go much longer without water and do not suffer in the least. A camel can abstain from drinking for six to ten days during the winter, spring, and autumn. In the hot summer months of July, August, September, and October, five days' absti nence seem to be the limit without in flicting unnecessary suffering upon the animal. SUPERB RACING CAMELS OE THE DESERT In the interior of northern Africa is a superb race of camels known as the mehara (singular, mehari), or racing camels. The mehara owe a great deal to the care taken in their breeding during the past 2,000 years. Ancient writers speak of camels used by the army of Xerxes, more than 2,000 years ago, that had the speed of the fastest horses; these were doubtless mehara. When a baby mehari is born it is swathed in bandages to prevent the stom ach from getting too large, and is taken into the family tent, where it is nursed and watched over with care and tender ness. When a year old, it is sheared, and is known from then on as a bou-keutaa, which means "the father of the shearing." Arabs are very fond of nicknames and everything and everybody is given one. For the first year it is allowed to wan der at will and follow its mother. The bou-keutaa is weaned by a pointed stick being run through one nostril and left in the wound. When the young camel tries to suckle its mother the stick pricks her and she kicks the baby camel away. It soon leaves the mother and learns to eat fresh green shrubs. In the sheared again and the name places that of bou-keutaa. When it is two years old begins. A halter is placed head and a cord tied to one feet. It is kept quiet first spring it is of heug re its training around the of the fore by gestures and the voice; later by the voice alone. Then the cord is loosened, but should it make a step it is tied again. Finally it understands what is required, but the les sons are only terminated when it will stand in one place without moving for an entire day. To make a heug kneel, the rider cries out, "Ch-ch-ch," and a person standing near strikes it with a stick on the knees at the same time the rider speaks to it. The camel soon learns to kneel without being struck. To make it a fast run ner, the rider whips it on both flanks alternately with a rhinoceros-hide whip and cries out in Arabic to excite it. A young mehari is very fond of its own skin, and on being struck starts on a gallop. The whipping keeps up and the camel tries to get away by running faster. The long legs seem like wings and it flies past with the speed of an ostrich. It will stop instantly at a pull on the rein, no matter what speed it has been mak ing. When the rider jumps off, or should he happen to fall, a well-trained mehari will stand quite still and wait, while should the master happen to be injured the faithful beast will never leave him. When a heug can turn in a narrow cir cle around a spear and start off at full speed the instant it is pulled up, the pe riod of training is considered finished. The camel is no longer a heug; it has become a mehari and is ready for the races or the war-path. THE .WAY TO RIDE A RACING CAMEL A mehari is never used as a beast of burden; all it ever carries is a saddle (something like a Mexican saddle, made of gazelle skin, dyed red, with a high pommel and a cross in front), two saddle bags, and a rider The rider is buckled into the saddle by two belts. His feet are crossed in front of the saddle and rest on the neck of the mehari. His slippers are usually slung across the pommel, and the mehari is guided by the wriggling of the rider's toes. An iron ring passes through one nos tril of the animal and a rein of camels' hair is attached. Should the mehari nib ble from the bushes on the wayside, the slightest jerk of the rein will bring it up, and a pull to the right or left will make it take the direction wished, although the voice and the toes are the usual guides.