The Cholistan is the cradle of precious desert livestock breeds and camel is one of the core livestock. The famous Marrecha breed of camel and Cholistani cattle are the backbone of the desert economy and livelihood1. The Brela or Malgade with high yielding camel breed come to the desert after the monsoon.
The interest of scientists and policymakers have been inclined in last few years and many interventions are introduced in the beautiful living desert of Cholistan. Contest for milk competitions are held almost every year and the main species is the camel. The contest of this year was attended and reported by Dr. Sajjad Khan (a well known international professor for animal breeds and breeding). I hereby copy his email to briefly tell about the milking contest and the livestock breeds participating.
“Heartening story of Camel and Cholistani cattle
In the gloomy scenario of recent camel article shared at dad-net regarding camels in Rajastan (India), we have a good news from across the border in Pakistan. Camel milk competition for this year concluded a few days back and Maricha breed (known for racing and dance) is a new addition in the milk competitions as it produced 18.94 liters in 36hrs under natural conditions. Natural conditions include no concentrate, no message and no injections of any sort and a sand-and-rain storm on day 2nd of the competition etc. Brela breed (on the right) which is known as better milk producer gave 23.24 liters (in 36hrs). Less than our expectations, animals had traveled as far from as 72 hrs of walk before the competition. Pictures are from a national newspaper where Government is congratulating winners (and supporting camel keepers).
Another good news is that first time ever we had an exclusive Cholistani cattle show along with the camel show. Cholistani is parent breed of Sahiwal and probably hardest of all the tropical breeds we have as it survives in Cholistani desert. The first position went to a cow (among 62 competing) producing 30. 54 liters (cow on the right).
The second position was secured by a cow from a government farm. For me, the beauty competition was even more fabulous as Cholistani has all sort of colors and animals without makeups were still amazing. Picture of a young bull (4th position holder) is attached as its color is the most preferred color (black splashes on the light background). It was a wonderful opportunity to be with my own people whom I had never met and learning how they survive in the harshest conditions. The temperature there may reach 52C in summer and of course no electricity.
Let us not despair, keep trying and I agree with many things pointed out by Dr. Razik.
Camel milk competition concluded last evening here in Cholistan desert (of Pakistan). It was quite interesting in many ways and I felt that at least I should share some of its salient features. It started on 12th October and concluded on 14th. Some 40 camels (locally called Dachis) contested and some owners had more than one. All animals were towards the end of their lactation. The size of the calf also matched with this narration. First thing was that it was not the best time for such competitions because camels generally calve in Jan/Feb/March and better time could have been April/May.Barela Camel is the Milk Line of Riverine Pakistan
The participants were not just the men and grownup boys as happens with our cattle/buffalo competitions in March every year. Rather families were there. Milkers combinations were man and wife or man and daughter or mother and daughter or mother and son etc. It was heartening to see these lively families. Amma Pathani (Mom Pathani) was very prominent. She contested like other men and forced even me (the chief judge) to announce results of every camel first in the local dialect, then in local language and then in national language as it was difficult for her (and other contestants, mostly unable to read or write) to wait for more than few seconds. So I had to round things for announcing and remain precise on paper. Her camel got 4th position and was given a special prize. Milk yield (once a day milking, recorded for two days) for 1st, 2nd and 3rd position camels was 17.1 (Bawali), 15.7 (Katti) and 15.1 (Malookan. I wonder if they could produce at this level in 9-10th months of their lactation what would be the yield in the 2nd month after calving. We will see next year.
Another important yet expected information was that most of these animals were 2nd and 3rd calvers with some 1st calvers and very few in later parities. Most belonged to either Barela (the dairy breed) or a cross between Barela and Marecha (the racing and dancing breed). Very few were Sindhi or crossbred Sindhis.
Camel dances at the event were worth watching. We had to walk on sand (with camels on our back) about 2 km to the prize distribution ceremony and dances continued. People seemed drunk with camel milk as they did not stop for a second. Age was not a limiting factor. It ranged from ~4 to >80.
An important announcement is that next year’s camel milk and dance competitions will coincide (conclude) with the camel day, 22nd June. As announced previously, camel conference is planned next year at Bahawalpur and site of milk competition is just 35 km from the city.
Camels from Pakistan are going to Gulf and even to France (for camel milk chocolate) but without a proper breeding and replacement system, my fear is that sustainability issue will haunt in future. Exploitation of camel herders is also feared. Thanks to all those who kept encouraging and were even trying to see everything through sound waves. We will try to post on this discussion forum as the next year events unfold. Few photos are placed. More photos with videos will be posted on http://fangrpk.org.
Marrecha camel is one of the precious camel genetic resources of Cholistan desert. Cholistan desert is the offshoot of great Indian desert. After the division of India, half of the great Indian desert came in Pakistan which was further split into two halves, i.e. Thar/Tharparker and the Cholistan.
Marrecha camel is also known as the Bekaneri camel in Rajasthan India. This breed of camel is well adapted to the sandy desert and is well fit for working in desert ecosystems. These animals are fine, fast and gracious looking and are called the riding camels. It is believed that these have been developed from Tharparker camels having their habitat in Sindh province of Pakistan (Rathore, 1986). It is estimated that these animals can travel 100 to 125 Km a day at a high speed of 20-25 Km per hour. This breed is also used for load carrying.
These animals are lightly built, medium sized with the medium head which is carried on a lean long beautifully curved neck. The mouth is small with tight lips, ears are small and pointed, with prominent round bright eyes, and narrow muzzle. The legs are strong, fine and well shaped. The coat color varies from light sandy to dark blackish. Female she-camel can give milk up to 10 liters a dayCAMEL REARING IN CHOLISTAN DESERT OF PAKISTAN.
Cholistan Desert (also locally known as Rohi) sprawls thirty kilometers from Bahawalpur, covers an area of 16,000 km². It adjoins the Thar Desert extending over to Sindh and into India. The word the Cholistan is derived from the Turkish word Chol, which means Desert. The Cholistan thus means Land of the Desert. The people of Cholistan lead a semi-nomadic life, moving from one place to another in search of water and fodder for their animals. The dry bed of the Hakra River runs through the area, along which many settlements of the Indus Valley Civilisation have been found. The present-day Cholistan is a part of the ancient Hakra civilization (HakraRiver), one of the oldest civilizations of the Aryan settlers in the Indian subcontinent. The Cholistan is home to diverse and unique animal genetic resources. Such animals are highly adapted to the local ecosystem and provide food in very low input systems or even zero inputs. Both the Rohi people and their animal genetic resources are always neglected and underestimated. The climate change challenges push the scientists and policymakers to characterize and document the true worth of these important animal breeds and to convert it in wealth and power of the Rohi people.
Falling in southern Punjab, Cholistan is one of the largest deserts of the country and part of the great Indian Desert. The Cholistan comprises three districtsBahawalnagar, Bahawalpur, and Rahim Yar Khan. The total area of Cholistan is 66,55,360 acres. The largest area of Cholistan is present inBahawalpurwhich is 40,28,217 acres. The temperature ranges in the Cholistan from 6 to 50°C. The length of Cholistan is 480 km and width ranges from 32 to 192 km. The human population of Cholistan is 1,55,000 whereas the livestock population is 13,18,000. Table 1 shows some more facts are summarized below.
Table 1. A glance at some basic facts about the Cholistan
Area spread (kms)
480 x 32-192
Area in acres
R Y Khan
28º 15’0 N
70º 45’0 E
The groundwater for these populations is mostly brackish. The inhabitants of Cholistan are called Rohi and the main tribe of the camel herders is Marrecha. The camel that belongs to Marrecha tribe is known as Marrecha breed. The other tribe which usually resides on the peripheries of the desert adjoining to irrigated lands is called Malgade. Malgade usually keeps the Brela camel. The Cholistan is the homeland of many precious animal genetic resources i.e. camel, cattle, sheep, and goat. Most of the Cholistan is covered with the wide range of nutritious and drought tolerant species of vegetation. Deep in desert, the camel mostly rely on Khar, Lana, Jand, and Kareer, while in the peripheries mostly kikar is available along the water courses and roadside (Table 2).
Table 2 showing the vegetation available for the camel in Cholistan desert
Cholistan Development Activities
The water sources available in the desert are comprised of Toba system and water supply provided by the Cholistan Development Authority and that of PCRWR. Toba is a pond, where rainwater is collected and stored after rains and camels were gathered for drinking before stating their browsing of the day. This water used by all the inhabitants of desert until it dries up. Here are some famous tobas of the desert.
Toba Meer Gargh Fort
Toba Moaj Gargh
Channan Peer and
Ghurkan Rest House.
Animal Genetic Resources in the Living Desert of Cholistan (Rohi)
Cholistani cattle is the best animal in habitats like the Cholistan and a source of income for pastoral people. This breed is medium size, well-developed udder and color range from red and black spotted with white background. Some species are purely red. Cholistani cattle possess well-developed hanging dewlap. The population of Cholistani cattle is 6,67,000 which is the maximum among Livestock population. Milk production potential of these animals is 8-10 liter per day in the desert area and lactation length is the 8-9 month. But install feeding management 18-20 liter per day with 7-8 month lactation length.
The maximum milk record is 29 liter per day at Jugaitpeer Farm. Despite the problems faced like lack of proper feeding pattern, poor ranges, long drought, lack of concentrate feed and water and low prices in the inner Cholistan, these perform well.
Sheep & Goat
There are three sheep breeds of sheep viz; Sipli (northern periphery of Cholistan), Buchi (in a central part of the desert) and Kadali (in the rear Cholistan or nearby R Y Khan Distt). Very common breed of goat is the local hairy goat.
The population of sheep is 3,51,000 while goat is 2,20,00 heads in Cholistan desert. There are two seasons of shearing one is spring and other is autumn shearing. The average wool production of Ram and Ewes is 5-6 kg in spring shearing and 3-5 kg in autumn shearing. The main purpose of farming of sheep breed is wool production. The wool price of these breeds is Rs 25/- per shearing but it has no future scope. Lots of wool stays in the desert, which is lying there at the mercy of natural vagaries. We suggest that L&DD Dept and CDA should do something collectively to bring this wool to some use. Wool Lab atBahawalpurcan also plays its role.
There are two types of camel breeds of Cholistan, one is Marrecha and second one is Brela. The camel population is almost 70,000 heads. About sixty (60%) population is Marrecha which is a beautiful animal and used for dancing purpose. While 40% population is of Brela which is a milking animal and maximum milk record of this breed is 22 liter. The milking season of Brela is from October to March.
The average herd size of the Marrecha camel is 37. The majority are female with 20-25 lactating camels. The color ranges from blackish brown to light brown while the majority is fawn. Marrecha has long thin neck, long legs, long eyelashes, hair on the ears & neck with medium head and pointed muzzles. The rabbit-like ears are the salient feature of this breed. The top priority of Marrecha herders is to produce drought camels for the transportation of their families in the desert. As Marrecha is highly demanded its racing ability and beauty, the herders stress on its beauty trait also.
Fig.Animal Genetic Resource~ Marrecha camel of Cholistan
This breed is mainly used for the transportation and riding in the desert. The male is trained for many events and riding in the desert ecology. There is high demand for Marrecha camel by the race hobbyist in local market andMiddle East. The Marrecha camel is liked by the hobbyists and the carters of the cities and produces milk in harsh conditions with high temperature and scarcity of feed & water. This characteristic of Marrecha camel enabling its’ herders to live in deep and use the camel milk as food security. As Marrecha camel found in the deep desert, therefore it is milked when the pastoral family needs it. They provide a good amount of milk to male calves for vigor and good health in future.
Types of male animals are sold at the age of 3-4 years at different times of the year. They sell it locally and at the famous camel fairs also. Channan Peer fair is one of the famous destinations of the male Marrecha animals. The average price is almost Rs. 50,000/- to 70,000/- but some animals may attain a price of Rs 4-5 lacs according to its beauty, attraction, and taste of the buyer.
The average herd size of the Brela camel is 26, with the majority of the female. The lactating camel ranges from 23-27% of the herd but depends upon the status of the year (dry or wet). The color ranges from blackish brown to light brown while the majority is deep brown, sometimes white specimen are also found. Brela is one of the massive breed of the country with the thick neck, wide chest, muscular legs and massive head. The hanging lip is one of the salient features of the breed. Brela camel is mainly raised for milk and male animals are sold for meat purpose. This is one of the high milk producing animal and produces up to 22 liters per day. The docility of the breed stands as its special trait. Any stranger can milk it any time of the day. It is also easy in adaptation in any kind of ecosystem, which is a tool, which can be used in the areas for milk production where camel had never been raised.
Fig. Brela camel Breed
The Brela camel originates from the ThaldesertofPakistan. Thal desert is already squeezed and remained only 32%. The rest of Thal desert is irrigated and brought under canal irrigation. The people replaced from that area starred a new strategy of camel production. They migrate from Thal to the Cholistan in August and stay here for 5 months and go back to Thal and their irrigated areas. They move along the road and railway tracks and their camel browse on vegetation available and whenever they find open areas, the aftermath of the crops, or labor the nearby fields, they stay there for a limited time. They also stay near the peripheries of the cities to sell camel milk, which usually is mixed in buffalo milk by the middleman and sold in the cities. They know the cultural events of their migratory routes and hence they participate in the melas (fairs) to sell their male animals and milk. They had adopted a very good strategy to keep the camel production system viable. Brela camel is milked very regularly twice the time. The women usually sell the milk and the earning usually goes to them. As Brela is good milk producer with sustainable lactation yield is resulting from a good source of earning in the form of milk for its herders especially the woman folks.
Problems and Constraints
Squeezing lands is one of the major problems for camel production systems in Pakistan, especially Cholistan desert. The desert had already brought under cultivation and the land allotted in the majority of the cases to the influential people of the country. The Brela camel herders and other livestock keepers were replaced and never compensated for their losses. Because of no representation in the policy-making organizations and legislation. they couldn’t raise their voice against this cruelty. The small ruminants and cattle breeders already left the occupation of livestock husbandry but the camel herders adapted a new way while moving long routes with their camel and traveling up to the desert of Cholistan. The Cholistan is also squeezing in size, the land grabbing is one of the important issues and the grazing lands are decreasing every day.
Fig.The dancer~ Marrecha camel
The Marrecha camel herders usually live and migrate with their camels in the deep desert according to the availability of foliage and accessibility of water. In such a remote and far-flung area, there is no market for camel products i.e. milk and wool, etc. The Brela camel herders take benefits of the roads in the peripheries for their milk sale. No doubt the male camel of Marrecha breed catch good prices in the fairs mostly buys for racing/riding and carting, etc. The female of the Brela catches very high price because of the interest of the Gulf countries in the breed for its appreciable milk production. But this scenario is not good for the sustainability of this breed. The Brela camel herders sell their precious animals to buy a piece of land for settlement in the peripheries of Cholistan, as they fear to lose the Cholistan because of land grabbing Mafia. This is a bad state of the situation for the high yielding camel like Brela.
a. For development workers and public institutions value, addition to camel products will be a great idea to eradicate extreme poverty in such a plunged area and enhance rural livelihood.
b. From scientist’s perspectives, we suggest that Camel is the animal of the future and can be an important tool to combat the new challenges like drought, climate changes, global warming and creeping desertification, emerging diseases and competition for feed & water resources.
c.Development of the camel race industry can bring the smile to the Rohi people as it may attract billion of Rupees in the area. Marrecha camel of the region is the best choice in this regards.
This will require a holistic approach on all facets of camel production by all players on the ground with the help of Rohi people to make a difference in their lives and also convert this future food basket into safe and health promising camel milk. How early it can be done, will depend on how serious we are to bring this dream into reality.
Camel is not just a source of earning livelihood and food security but a main player in cultural and recreational goodwill of the camel’s pastoralists in its habitats. In Pakistan, camel is being enjoyed for many recreational purposes but dancing is one of the most important and unique event, especially among Marrecha camel paternalists. The Marrecha camels’ pastoralists are very fond of camel dancing and practice annual events to share the performance of their elite camels. According to Marrecha pastoralits, their camels are the best in learning dancing and even other commands. They define their camels as obedient & humble and good in learning different commands. Marrecha camel quickly learn dancing, riding/racing in desert and even working commands in the agricultural fields and densely populated cities’ street. This breed of this camel is highly liked by the people of Cholistan and its adjoining areas for accessibility in desert, beauty of gesture and good learning ability. To read more about Marrecha camel and Cholistan please click the links below;