Camel wrestling is a Turkish tradition that dates back almost 2,500 years. The animals are typically imported from nearby countries and brought to Turkey’s Aegean region, where most of the wrestling takes place. In a lot of ways it’s like a goofier and less-deadly version of cockfighting. Two males are brought into the arena and, depending on who’s running the match, one of two things will happen. If it’s a traditional match, a female will be paraded around the ring and made to shake her ass while the males watch on, drooling buckets of foamy spit in sexual frustration until the female’s owner takes her out of the ring, at which point the males fight each other under the misguided assumption that whoever wins will get laid. If the match adheres to the more contemporary—and some say civilized—way of preparing camels to fight, the owners will pull the camels together, putting them face-to-face until they start fighting. According to Wikipedia, organizers have also “attempted to entangle two camels together or starve the camels to make them more aggressive.” The match is over when one of the camels falls down, runs away, or screams.
But the event is more than just a bunch of Turks sitting around watching camels try to bite each other’s balls off. Like most sporting events, a sense of camaraderie fills the stadium. Thick smoke from the dozens of barbecue fires (some of which are cooking camel meat) wafts between the spectators and fighters, and a steady stream of raki, Turkey’s national liquor, keeps the crowd lively.
I visited a fight recently and was able to sneak into the arena to get these shots—and a lot of camel spit in the face—before being almost trampled and then kicked out by the officials.