What is Camel Wrestling?

Camel wrestling is an obscure sport that is being held in Turkey since the 1900s. The sport involves two male camels who are wrestling against each other in a wide field, and whoever is successful in toppling down their opponent wins the match. The current Turkish government allows camel wrestling to be held annually, as they believe that it is part of their culture. However, there have been many animal rights activists who are trying to shut down the sport because of animal cruelty. Regardless of the resistance against camel wrestling, the sport is still played until today. So, how is camel wrestling played? And how was it invented? To know the answers to the two said questions, here is a short introduction to camel wrestling.

How It is Played

Male camels are instinctively fighting during mating season to see who can mate with a female that they both are eyeing on. Since males camels can only fight whenever they are in heat, all camel wrestling events are held during a mating season. To fight, camels would use their necks and push them against the opponent’s neck to try and topple them down. One can see the similarities to how arm wrestling and camel wrestling is played, as both competitors are trying their best to pin their opponents. However, in camel wrestling, the camels don’t usually stay in place; instead, they will walk or run around the field. The match ends when a camel is pinned to the ground, or if a camel tries to run away from his opponent.

There are currently more than 25 camel wrestling competitions held in Turkey each year, and most of these tournaments are connected to an annual festival. Mating season for camels in Turkey occurs from November to March, so that time frame is often called a “season” for camel wrestling. There are about 100 camels participating in these events every year, and one camel would have to fight ten or more matches in a single event.

camel in the desert

The camel wrestling competitions are held every Sunday, and the locations for the events are in football stadiums or an open field where there are fences to prevent the camels from escaping. At the end of the camel wrestling season, which is in the third or fourth week of March, the camels who won the most matches would fight against each other, similar to how “All-Star” events for some sports like basketball, baseball, and American football are played.

Camel wrestling has been a big tourist attraction for Turkey since the 1960s, as many tourists believed that experiencing a live camel wrestling event would let them be immersed in Turkey’s culture. The sport is also quite popular among locals and is currently one of the most popular sport in Turkey alongside oil wrestling and football.

Animal rights activists have tried to convince the Turkish government to cancel the camel wrestling events for many years; however, because the sport allows the country to get plenty of income, there are currently no recurring talks about shutting down the camel wrestling tournaments.


Since camels had appeared on Earth more than 40 million years ago, it is quite difficult to trace when they started fighting using their necks. However, there is enough evidence to point out that Turkish tribes were holding camel fighting tournaments about 2400 years ago.

The sport eventually became a source of income for the Turkish government when the Turkish National Aviation League organized camel wrestling events in order for the government to be able to buy planes. However, during the 1930s, the then-government of Turkey tried to shut down and discourage holding camel wrestling competitions, as they believed that the sport is “culturally backward” and would not benefit the country’s history.

Fast forward to the 1980s, and the government began encouraging the creation of several camel wrestling tournaments again as a way to profit from it, as they have seen that it can promote the country’s tourism. Unsurprisingly, the camel wrestling events helped boost their tourism, and the sport is currently one of the main attractions of the country.

Despite being held in Turkey, the tournaments would usually have camel participants that are bred in either Afghanistan or Iran. In addition, there are approximately 2000 fighting camels that are being utilized only for joining camel wrestling competitions. These wrestling camels typically have a stronger build and a thicker neck to allow them to not fall down as easily as other normal-sized camels. Because of how strong the camels are, the owners, as well as the organizers, would have a hard time stopping the fight whenever a camel is pinned down. During the commotion, the owners of the wrestling camels would often fight as well, and the chaos that is occurring in the field is what locals describe as “part of the game.”