Botox still banned: Saudi Arabia's camel beauty contest is back

In pursuit of perfectly pouting lips and wrinkle-free noses, competitors at last year’s camel beauty pageant in Saudi Arabia made international headlines after they were disqualified for using Botox injections on their animals in hopes of scoring the top prize. This year, organisers at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival are clamping down and enforcing stiffer penalties to combat doctored dromedaries.

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Contestants at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival beauty pageant. Photo by: Elizabeth Branca/Lonely Planet

What’s required to take home the trophy for good looks? The criteria for the top beauty prize are extensive and include benchmarks for colour, coat texture, leg length and, naturally, voluptuous lips. To augment their camel’s natural assets as well as increase their chances for bragging rights and big winnings, a few owners have resorted to employing estheticians to shape and enlarge the camel contender’s lips and inject Botox into its mouth and nose to give it an extra suppleness.

In hopes of crowning only au-naturel winners, the Saudi Camel Club plans to eliminate any cosmetically enhanced contestants from this year’s contest by using high-tech equipment. ‘So far we have disqualified seven camels for Botox and fillers,’ Mohammed Alroqi, the media director for Saudi Camel Club, explained to Lonely Planet Travel News. "And when they are caught, the owner must pay SR100,00 per camel."

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Camel herder. Photo by: Elizabeth Branca/Lonely Planet

If a profusely puffed pout arouses the suspicions of festival officials, a team of veterinarians ushers the would-be contestant to the festival’s medical tent. Ultrasound is used to detect cosmetic enhancements such as lip fillers, and an X-ray machine is used to identify surgical modifications, such as a reshaped nose and reset ears. "Last year they just checked the camels with their eyes, but this year we use machines," noted Alroqi.

Alroqi also noted that owners of any physically altered or enhanced camels caught entering the contest are barred for at least two years and put on a blacklist that’s distributed by the camel club.

Although the hilarious headlines conjured up comical images of dromedaries donning tiaras, the competition, with more than US$30 million in prize money at stake, is serious business and isn’t taken lightly.

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Botox still on the banned list at the Saudi beauty pageant for camels. Photo by: Elizabeth Branca/Lonely Planet

Each year thousands of camels across Saudi Arabia and the wider Arabian Peninsula descend onto the small village of Rumah, 140km northeast of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, to compete in the festival’s beauty contest and racing competitions.

By Elizabeth Branca