Turkey's Selcuk Camel Wrestling Festival is the largest event of its kind, attracting over 150 camel owners and more than 20,000 spectators each year. It is held in the Unesco World Heritage area of Selcuk and Ephesus, in Turkey's Aegean region.

Selcuk-Efes Camel Wrestling Festival
A wrestling camel adorned with colourful ornaments is seen during the Camel Beauty Contest ahead of the annual Selcuk-Efes Camel Wrestling Festival Murad Sezer/Reuters

Camel wrestling originated among the nomadic Turkic tribes more than 2,400 years ago. It is a great honour for camel owners to have their camel enter the competition, and they will spend all year ensuring that the camel is prepared. Alongside the wrestling matches, the Selcuk Camel Wrestling Festival also holds a parade and a camel beauty contest.

The camels are bred and trained specifically for competing from a young age. Wrestling matches will last roughly ten minutes, with handlers intervening to break the camels up if the bout turns too violent. The winner is determined when one of the camels either runs away or is wrestled to the ground. Traditionally a female camel in heat was used to spur on the two males into fighting each other, but this made the camels too violent and difficult to control.

Many animal rights organisations to criticise camel wrestling, deeming it cruel. However, although the wrestling can sometimes get violent the camels are generally not hurt during the bouts.

Typically, a successful wrestling camel can be worth over £14,000 ($20,000). They are considered extremely valuable and many owners treat them like family members. Camel wrestling is also one of the most popular forms of weekend entertainment for many Turkish residents in rural towns. Parties can go on well into the night with locals enjoying music and drinking the traditional raki.

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