Camels are, understandably, a big deal in this desert-defined region. They provide transportation, food, and entertainment in the form of racing. The QNHG (Qatar Natural History Group), which I have mentioned before, had a ramble to the camel race track near Sheehaniya in mid-December. There we were able to watch the Sudanese trainers as they exercised and trained the camels on the track.
Things I learned:
1. The young Sudanese boys who used to be used as jockeys have been replaced by mechanical boxes that are attached to the saddle. This was done in response to protests by human rights groups several years back, who objected to the way in which the young jockeys were obtained and retained.
2. Those young Sudanese boys have become the trainers.
3. The races start with pairs of camels: a mother, ridden by her trainer, and a young camel with the mechanical jockey. After a bit, the mother leaves the track and the races are completed by the young camels.
4. There are two concentric race tracks - the camels race on the inner track and the camel owners and spectators drive/race alongside on the outer track. The owners are controlling the mechanical jockey. The spectators are just having a good time.
5. Gambling is illegal in Qatar, so various interested individuals put up large purses as prize winnings - usually 4x4 SUV's or pick-up trucks.
This information explained why the parking lot of the race track looked like a car dealership with lots of unlicensed vehicles sitting about; why there were two tracks; and why it didn't matter if you couldn't see the far side of the track from the very small grandstand since most spectators would be in their cars racing with the camels.
It seems to be rather difficult to find out when the camels are racing, since the races aren't widely publicized, but I'm hoping to be able to attend at least one race before I leave in May - as long as someone else is driving!