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Camels are popular with many of the tourists visiting Qatar for the World Cup


Camels are an important part of the history and culture of the Middle East. They're also very popular with many of the 1 million tourists visiting Qatar for the World Cup.


Which is great for camel tour guides, who are making some money, but the animals are working overtime.


MARTÍNEZ: One camel tour guide told the Associated Press he normally gives about 20 rides a day, 50 on the weekends. With the World Cup, he's now giving 500 each morning, 500 more in the afternoons. They've had to get a lot more camels to meet demand.

RICHARD BULLIET: I don't think that that is a terribly heavy burden for a camel.

INSKEEP: Richard Bulliet is a professor emeritus specializing in Middle Eastern history at Columbia University. He literally wrote the book on the history of camels. Bulliet says that based on what he knows, he's not that concerned about the camels working extra shifts.

BULLIET: Camels are enormously durable animals. There was a famous horse race, camel race where a horse raced a camel for 150 miles, something like that. And the horse won the race. Then the horse was utterly exhausted. And the next day, the camel walked back the 150 miles to the place where it started.

MARTÍNEZ: In the sixth century, camels were the world's primary form of land transportation. Thanks to the hump on their back packed with fat, they can go a week without water and months without food.

BULLIET: It makes an almost energy-free form of transport.

INSKEEP: In modern-day Qatar, camels are valued for racing. They can run as quickly as 40 miles per hour for short stretches and 30 miles per hour on long distances. They probably get good mileage, too.


MARTÍNEZ: But tourists hoping to cross a camel ride off their bucket list should try their best to stay on the animal's good side.

BULLIET: Camels do spit. If they're annoyed, they can also kick out to the side. They don't really care much about people.

MARTÍNEZ: So on this hump day, hopefully the burden on your back is a little lighter than theirs.

(SOUNDBITE OF DUKE ELLINGTON'S "CARAVAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.