DUBAI Ten golden-colored camels adorned with sparkling ornaments line up for the finale of a beauty contest in one of the UAE's northern emirates, awaiting the selection of two proud winners.
Gulf Arabs from across the region gather in a large sandy plot in Ajman to sit in for a four-hour competition, which will see the selection of the best out of 150 camels every day.
The three-day spectacle should end with the top two finalists bagging luxury cars, while a remaining eight win cash.
In an effort to preserve the Gulf Arab country's cultural legacy, the government encourages camel rearing through funding and festivals where the desert animal is paraded for beauty, and sold in auctions.
The festival also serves as a meeting point for the country's tribes, residing in the rural parts of the United Arab Emirates. Tribesmen are paid by the government to rear camels and preserve a pure lineage of the country's breeds.
"The UAE's heritage is linked to camels and this festival emphasizes this. Traditions and customs lie in maintaining our history," said Saeed al-Aameri, who owns a large camel farm and is a participant in the pageant.
The camels are judged on different criteria, depending on the breed. The body is divided into five sections, with 20 points each, to mark beauty and elegance.
After the prettiest camels are selected, based on the length of neck, curve of the humps, structure of the body, height and general appearance, the camels' owners are sworn in to vouch for purity of lineage and proprietorship.
"I swear that this camel is local, not hybrid...a pure breed and is fully owned by me," said one of the finalists, standing beside his camel.
At the auction, after the pageant, Gulf Arabs gather to place their bids or sell for the highest price on offer.
Some camels could be sold for as much as 16 million dirhams ($4.36 million), said one participant.
The festival takes place three times a year in Ajman and Abu Dhabi, said the event's executive director, Shalal Rzooqi al-Shimri, adding the event was popular in countries including Oman, the UAE and Qatar.
"With the festival, we want to encourage cultural tourism and preserve our heritage," said Shimri.
(Reporting by Tamara Walid, editing by Paul Casciato)