When you think of camels, you always think of deserts too, don’t you? After all, the camel is known as the ‘ship of the desert’. But not all camels live only in deserts. There is a special breed of camel which can swim in the sea! It is found only in one place in the world – Gujarat.
This breed of camel is known as Kharai, which means ‘salty’ in the local language. Though it lives on land, its favourite food is the leaves of the mangrove, a shrub or small tree growing in salty water near the sea. In some areas on the Gujarat coast, there are lots of mangrove forests, and these special camels swim up to 3 km into the sea to feed on them. They can also drink the salty sea water.
Kharais are mostly reared by two particular communities of Gujarat – the Jat and the Rabari. They know everything about caring for this breed, including what to do when they fall ill. This knowledge has been passed down from one generation to another.
Like other, more common breeds of camel, the Kharai too is used to transport goods and people. The Jats and the Rabaris also drink the milk of the Kharai.
Sadly, the Kharai’s habitat, or the areas which have what they need to thrive, is shrinking because of the development that is taking place. Ports and industries and housing colonies are coming up, and forcing the Kharais to live in smaller and smaller areas. There are now less than 4000 of these special camels.
Many people have realized the importance of preserving this breed, and are working to help the Jats and the Rabaris to make sure that the Kharai herds grow. The Government is also supporting these efforts. Let’s hope they succeed.