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Environment

Nearly 2,000 camels die in Saudi, food suspected

Men ride on camels during Sudan's Armed Forces 53rd anniversary and the opening of a new dam in Marawi, northern Sudan, August 14, 2007. Nearly 2,000 camels have died in Saudi Arabia from a mystery illness that first appeared two weeks ago, the government said on Saturday, adding that poisoning was a more likely cause than infectious disease. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdalla

RIYADH (Reuters) - Nearly 2,000 camels have died in Saudi Arabia from a mystery illness that first appeared two weeks ago, the government said on Saturday, adding that poisoning was a more likely cause than infectious disease.

Authorities have been on the lookout for signs of foot-and- mouth disease over the last year.

“Veterinary experts say the symptoms indicate cases of poisoning and not an infectious disease, and this accords with what camel owners have said about animal feed they bought,” Agriculture Minister Fahd Bilghoneim told a news conference.

Camels began dying in the Dawasir Valley south of Riyadh earlier this month. Bilghoneim said 1,982 camels had since died.

Deaths have been recorded in the far south of the vast desert kingdom, from Mecca to the border of Yemen.

King Abdullah promised compensation for owners after the government said last week that 232 camels had died in the space of four days in the Dawasir Valley.

The Agriculture Ministry blamed the deaths on animal feed supplied by food storage authorities. Bilghoneim said tests showed signs of poisoning from insecticides.

Symptoms of the illness include sweating, excitability, loss of balance, vomiting and fainting.

Camels are big business in the desert kingdom and are traded by Bedouin tribes for thousands of dollars each. The animals are used for racing and their meat is also prized.

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