Contestants who are shallow, judgmental, and bloodthirsty are nothing new in the world of competitive beauty, but when those same contestants are camels, the world takes notice.
Yes, camel beauty pageants are indeed a thing. While they’re certainly unusual, they’re far from the only strange or unorthodox animal contests going on in the world today.
We’ve all heard of canine agility trials and cat shows, but they’re just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animal competitions.
The Wide, Weird World of Animal Racing
Pitting two or more animals against one another to see which one is fastest is nothing new. Millions of dollars change hands every year based on how rapidly a dog or horse can make their way around an arbitrary circle, after all.
If you think that it’s only dogs and horses that people are betting on, though, you’re in for a surprise. There’s seemingly no limit to the animals that people will race, and it seems that the stranger the competitors, the more dedicated the audience.
The 6 Wildest Pet Competitions
1. The World Snail-Racing Championships
Every July, the sporting world’s gaze turns to the small town of Congham, England, a village of 241 people surrounded by pastoral farmland. Fans from all over the world flock to the small parish, as many as 400 or more, effectively tripling the town’s population.
They come for one reason: speed.
The competitors—common garden snails—can occasionally reach speeds of .03 mph. They can’t sustain that kind of velocity for long, of course, but for 2 minutes or so, you can watch as they blaze a trail (or leave one, anyway) around a 13-inch circular track. The owners of these thoroughbreds come from all walks of life, and for some, the glamour and fame that accompany snail racing can be captivating.
The race itself can be every bit as raucous as your average NASCAR contest, with fans crowding the track to cheer on their favorite snails. What’s more, those who bear witness to such otherworldly feats of speed are forever changed by the moment.
Take the experience of Dave Pedley, the founder and editor of YourCub.com. Pedley stumbled upon the races while on vacation with his family. Intrigued by what could possibly hold the attention of dozens of people, he muscled his way to a front-row view of the track. The life-changing drama he witnessed before him is best described by Pedley himself:
“We didn’t stick around to see who was crowned World Champion—it was a pretty sluggish affair—but judging by the cheering we heard, it must have been an exciting finish! One wonders what the prize was.”
As a matter of fact, the fastest snails win lettuce!
In case you’re wondering how long it takes a snail to make its way around a 13-inch track, the current record is held by a snail named Larry, who did it in a blistering 2 minutes and 47 seconds.
2. The Fastest Sport on Four Legs and Four Wheels
Snails aren’t the only strange animals taking to the tracks. Hamster racing is another sport that’s become quite popular in the United Kingdom.
While snail racing was always intended to be done for laughs, hamster racing has a far more noble origin story: It was created to give gamblers something to do after foot-and-mouth disease caused the cancellation of numerous horse races in 2001. Online bookmaker Blue Square came up with the idea of having hamsters race instead of horses. Naturally, these hamsters would have to race in tiny little dragsters.
Given that they have vehicles to help them reach top speeds, it’s only fair that the hamsters would have to traverse a longer track—30 feet per lap, in this case. The current world record on such a track is 38 seconds. Most of the races are simple, straight-line affairs, but some feature human pit crews and multiple teams. It’s a fantastic substitute for regular auto racing, with the bonus that the competitors are cuter.
It was believed that the sport’s popularity would dip after horse racing came back, but instead, it’s spread to multiple countries, with hamster races being staged in the United States and Asia, among other places. Racers have even picked up big-name sponsorships, including MTV and Petco.
3. A Hop, a Skip, and Multiple Jumps: The Most Ribbiting Competition Around
While there’s no shortage of odd animal races to take in across the globe, at some point, watching a bunch of animals sprint toward a line in the sand gets old. Fresh blood and new competitions need to be introduced.
Jumping is the logical next (long) step. Unlike odd animal races, though, jumping competitions are focused more on maximizing athletic ability rather than creating a spectacle.
Tucked away in Calaveras County, just a bit southeast of Sacramento, California, the town of Angels Camp was once a bustling metropolis during the California Gold Rush. Over $20 million in gold flowed through the town, but when the precious metals dried up, the town was left to flounder. What they needed was a second gold rush, and there was only one thing that could save them: frogs.
In 1865, Mark Twain published a celebrated short story entitled, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The story naturally gave the town an idea: Why not start a frog-jumping competition?
The result of that brainstorm is the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee, which is held in the town each May. The festivities start with a parade through downtown, and events include a rodeo, carnival, and something that the town’s website calls “goofy competitions” (as opposed to frog jumping, presumably).
According to event enthusiast Dr. Georgina Ushi, DVM, of WeLoveDoodles.com, “The competition is held for four straight days (from Thursday to Sunday), where frogs must pass knock-out stages in order to qualify to the big finals where the 50 most athletic frogs will battle it out. Although there is a very competitive atmosphere on the main stage, visitors can choose a more recreative experience by jumping for just fun on ‘Rosie the Ribiter’s Stage.’”
The competition is surprisingly popular, with more than 45,000 people and upward of 2,000 frogs making the trip to Angels Camp each year. The record jump of 21 feet, 5 ¾ inches, was set in 1986 by a frog named Rosie the Ribiter, and if any competitor manages to beat it, they take home a cool $5,000.
4. A Hare-Raising Competition
Sweden’s a beautiful place to visit, but apparently, living there gets to be a bit boring. How else would you explain the rise of Kaninhop, a sport that originated in the country in the early 1970s?
Kaninhop, or rabbit show jumping, is a sport in which bunnies of all shapes and sizes are encouraged to jump over obstacles of various sizes. These contests are wildly popular with rabbit clubs across the country, and the sport is even beginning to gain popularity in other countries. Competitors aren’t allowed to be corrected by their handlers, and there’s even a congeniality aspect involved, as bunnies will be disqualified if they show any aggression toward humans or fellow contestants.
The current world record for the highest jump is held by Dobby, a rabbit owned by Sweden’s own Julia Samson. Dobby was able to clear 42 inches in a single bound, which is a mere 21 inches less than the human record. The longest rabbit jump on record is 9.88 feet, also held by Dobby. (The record for humans is just shy of 30 feet.)
5. A Sport for Real Dumbos
Soccer is called “the beautiful game” for a reason, and it has a rabid following all over the planet. No matter where you go, you can find people of all ages, shapes, and sizes kicking the ball around.
In fact, if you go to Nepal, Thailand, or India, you might even see elephants playing the game.
The pachyderms use an inflatable ball that’s larger than a regulation ball, which is why they’ve never qualified for the World Cup. They may play with riders on their back or by themselves, and the use of goalkeepers is encouraged but not required.
As in regular soccer, the elephants are only allowed to touch the ball with their feet. The use of trunks is strictly forbidden, but it’s not clear who, exactly, will enforce such rules against the 5-ton animals.
The elephants can be quite good, and in one case, a team of the animals actually beat a human squad, 2 to 1. The humans might have been outclassed, or they could have possibly realized that it’s not worth the risk to win and find out that the elephants are sore losers.
While elephant soccer is growing in popularity in a few countries, it doesn’t seem likely that it will enjoy much growth worldwide, if for no other reason than most countries don’t have elephants.
6. Beauty Pageants Full of Backstage Dromedaries
While you could be forgiven for thinking that we were making up the idea of a camel beauty pageant, they’re absolutely real—and they’re big business.
According to Harvey Wells from CoolPetsAdvice.com, “By far, one most fun and high-prized event is in UAE. Abu Dhabi holds an annual camel beauty contest every year at the Al Dhafra Festival, where thousands of camels show up for the most prestigious beauty pageant. The judges usually select the most beautiful camel based on its physical characteristics, and the winner receives more than a million dollars.”
The Al Dhafra festival is far from the only camel beauty pageant around. There are big-money events in Saudi Arabia all the time, some boasting prize pools of $30 million or more. Given that there’s that kind of money to be made, you better believe that cheating is involved. What’s surprising, though, is how much cheating in camel beauty pageants mimics the cheating that occurs in human events. Botox is forbidden to use, but that doesn’t stop contestants from shooting their camels up with the stuff. Injections are traditionally placed in the lips, nose, and jaw.
So, what makes one camel more alluring than the next? Competitors are judged on the shine of their coat, the length and width of their neck, the size of their head, and of course, the attractiveness of their hump. There are 22 measurements taken overall!
Every Animal Can Be an Athlete—If You’re Willing to Invent New Competitions
The world of animal athletes keeps getting bigger, and there’s no telling which sport will be the next big thing. Prize and participant pools keep growing, and interest in these events can come from all corners of society.
Given that interest in exotic pets is always high, it’s only a matter of time until a combination of boredom and curiosity gives birth to the next big thing. Whether it ends up a huge moneymaker or a mere eccentricity remains to be seen.
Featured Image Credit: anitram, Shutterstock