Conservation of Kharai Camels and Securing Livelihoods by the Kachchh Unt Uchherak Maldhari Sangathan (KUUMS), Gujarat
Gujarat, a State in the western coast of India, represents the desert and coastal biogeographic regions. Kutch, a coastal region of the State, which also has a vast desert land, is home to the native Kharai camels. They are a unique eco-tonal breed that can survive on both terrestrial and marine ecosystems and are well adapted to living in and around mangroves. They can swim up to 3 km at a time into the sea, can tolerate water with high levels of salinity and can digest volumes of saline plant species. It is the ninth recognized camel breed of India and its milk has been identified as beneficial in the treatment of several diseases, including cancer, diabetes and tuberculosis. The occurrence of the Kharai camels is limited to the state of Gujarat, with a total population of a mere 3,664. The local communities in the villages of Mundra, Lakhpat, Abdasa and Bachau talukas in the Kutch region, rear these Kharai camels. They are expert breeders who have accumulated vast traditional knowledge on treating sick animals with locally available natural resources.
Need for the Initiative
Due to the lack of demand for camel milk or wool in Kutch, the breeders mostly depend on selling the camels for their livelihoods.  These camels were traditionally used for draft and transportation purposes. However, with increasing mechanization, their traditional services have been rendered obsolete. Kutch has witnessed rapid industrialization and the development of ports have put severe restrictions on access to mangroves. Industrial effluents have further led to degradation of the ecosystem. Although camels and these mangroves have co-existed for centuries, the forest authorities have now decided to ban everyone, including herders and their flocks from entering the mangrove forests. There are just six geographically distinct regions in Gujarat where the breed thrives, putting it at far greater risk than other breeds that are more widespread.
Conservation Initiatives and Impacts
Sahjeevan, a Kutch-based organization, with the support of Department of Animal Husbandry, Government of Gujarat, initiated a project on 'Mobilizing Camel Breeders Towards Organizational Structure’ under the centrally sponsored scheme, ‘Conservation of Threatened Breeds’. Sahjeevan encouraged the camel breeders to organize themselves and raise their issues with the state. Thereafter, the Kachchh Unt Uchherak Maldhari Sangathan (KUUMS) was constituted in the year 2011 and was registered under the Society and Trust Act, with 350 camel pastoralists becoming its members. The Executive Committee of KUUMs consists of male and female representatives from each taluka. With assistance from Sahjeevan, KUUMS proposed the recognition of the Kharai camel as a distinct camel breed of India, which was subsequently accepted by National Bureau of Animal Genetic Resources (NBAGR) in 2015. This has garnered support from the Government of India, who has since then directed resources towards the conservation of the breed. Registration of the breed has also ensured that the long-term ownership of the Kharai is vested with the community. KUUMS further facilitated the recognition of camel milk as an edible food item by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and initiated production of value-added products from the camel milk-based beverages such as camel cheese and ice cream. Multiple private dairies have also started procuring camel milk. The state government has allocated Rs. 30,000,000 for dairy development activities and initiated annual health camps, with an allocation of Rs 2,000,000 per year. KUUMS has collaborated with various handicraft institutions to produce camel hair-based products such as carpets, stoles, and fabric. It also organizes an Annual Camel Fair in Kutch to spread awareness regarding the importance of camels. These initiatives have led to an increased demand for these camels, recording a 200% rise in the prices of Kharai camels. The Sangathan helped Kharai camel herders form a Centre for Biodiversity Outcomes (CBO) which now works hand-in-hand with Sahjeevan to advocate for access to resources to support this camel breed. KUUMS developed a Bio-cultural Community Protocol for the herders in 2015 which articulates community values and priorities while stating rights and responsibilities under customary, state and international law.
Recognition in India Biodiversity Awards
KUUMS won the India Biodiversity Award under the category ‘Conservation of Domesticated Species’ in 2018.
Contact- Bhikhabhai Vaghabhai Rabari Tel. +91 9879123135, +91 9909350957 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com