Camels are disappearing from cattle market thanks to increasing vigilance along the India-Bangladesh border
When you walk into the Gabtoli cattle market this year, it won't be hard to locate cattle trader Amzad Hossain. Amzad is only the person selling camels at the market, and that too, only one camel.
You can spot the camel from a distance, standing tall amidst thousands of cows, bulls and goats.
For the upcoming Eid-ul-Azha, this may be the only camel for sale around the country as well.
Amzad is asking for Tk15 lakh for the long-necked animal.
He brought nine camels from India two years ago and sold the others in previous Eids.
"There is no camel in the market as import has totally stopped. We cannot import cows, let alone camels," said Amzad.
Over the last few years, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) has been especially vigilant along the India-Bangladesh border to prevent cattle markets being flooded with Indian animals in a bid to protect local farmers. An unintentional by-product of that move has been the disappearance of exotic animals such as camels from the cattle market as most of them arrived from India.
At Gabtoli, even a few years back, you could be assured of finding at least 10 to 15 camels for sale. In the early 2000s, there would be around 30-40 camels at the market.
"We brought camels and cows from India. We could bring 10-15 camels in one trip. But those days are gone now," said Amzad Hossain.
He said that he would go to Pakistan, and Maharashtra in India to bring camels and Dumba (fat-tailed sheep) to Bangladesh.
Normally it takes at least five days to bring these camels from Maharashtra to the Bangladesh border, he said.
"We bring these camels via highway on trucks and in some places, we walk them. Then they cross the border and come in to Bangladesh," he said.
Leading livestock enterprise in the country, Sadeeq Agro, imported 19 camels from India four years back. All of them were sold in the previous years.
Owner of Sadeeq Agro Mohammad Imran Hossain is also the president of Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association, the apex body of livestock entrepreneurs.
Last year he had seven camels and all of them were sold.
Camels no longer for sale
The oldest as well as the largest camel farm in Bangladesh is situated in Dhaka's South Kamalapur. Around 13 years ago, Dewanbag Sharif, an Islamic organisation based in Dhaka, bought 10 camels from Gabtoli cattle market before Eid-ul-Azha.
The camels had been imported from Rajasthan in India.
Dewanbag Sharif set up Bab-e Madina Camel Farm in 2004 for rearing these camels. At its height, 65 camels were born and raised here.
Every year, the authorities at the farm would sell camels before Eid-ul-Azha. But since last year they have decided to stop selling camels.
"We were never a commercial farm to start with. We sold camels because we had many. We stopped last year because camels are now short in supply," said Syed Mehadi Hasan, media coordinator of Dewanbag Sharif.
At present, there are 24 camels in the farm. The farm still does sacrifice camels at times during Orosh meets. Otherwise, the farm sells camel milk at Tk400 per kilogram.
Like at Bab-e Madina, there are camels still available in the country, but they are just not available for sale.
ZMA Jabber has been rearing two camels, along with other exotic animals such as deer, for five years as a hobby in Musalmanpara area in Khulna.
His nephew Humayan Kabir, who takes care of these animals, said the camels are not for sale.
"My uncle loves these camels and the other animals. He does not sell camels for slaughter," he said.
Local farmers replace demand for imported Dumba
Apart from camels, people, especially the well off, nowadays sometimes prefer the Dumba as a sacrificial animal.
With demand for the animal steadily increasing, many livestock farmers have begun rearing this pricey animal.
The Dewanbag Sharif farm is also rearing 120 Dumbas, beside Garole sheep.
Ali Azam Rahman Shibly, owner of Al Aiman Agrovet in Sirajgonj, is rearing around 36 Dumba in his farm. He began with five imported Dumbas in 2016.
He said that the demand is so high that these animals are sold off as soon as they are born.
The price for a young Dumba is around Tk one and half lakh.
Many farms are now breeding this animal locally in the country. Shibly said that it is more profitable to rear Dumba than goats as the mortality rate and cost of feeding goats is higher.
"A goat eats 500 grams of solid food while 300 grams of solid food is enough for a Dumba," said Shibly.
Bangladesh Dairy Farmers' Association leader Mohammad Imran Hossain now has 32 Dumbas in his stock.
They sold nine Dumbas last year during Eid. The price was between Tk2 lakh to Tk3.5 lakh.
"The demand for sacrificial Dumba is increasing in the city. The price has also fallen due to local breeding in farms. It is no longer an import-dependent animal in Bangladesh," said Mohammad Imran Hossain.
Livestock farmers said that the well off and pious people whose children work abroad tend to buy Dumba every year.
The price of a local Dumba has also come down.
The price of imported Dumba used to be as much as Tk4.5 lakh, whereas the price of local Dumba is Tk3.5 lakh at best.
Apart from selling Dumba during Eid, Sadeeq Agro sells its meat all year round. The price of one kilogram of meat is Tk1,800.
Imran said there are around 40 farms which rear Dumbas across the country.
The number of Dumbas is around 300. Most of the farms rear them alongside other animals like cows, sheep and goats.
"If you look back five years, there were maybe five Dumba farmers in the country." Imran said.
Sadeeq Agro has already sold three Dumbas for this Eid.
He said that the government should train veterinary doctors as well as farmers for rearing exotic animals.
The demand for these animals is increasing. The mortality rate of Dumba is much lower than that of goat.
"We have a potential market for exporting Dumbas to Saudi Arabia, because they need tens of thousands of these every Eid. Saudi Arabia cannot produce so many Dumbas and as a result they import them from African countries and Australia."
While the number of commercial Dumba rearing farms is steadily increasing in the country, the authorities has little knowledge about its growth.
Abdul Jabbar Sikder, director general of Department of Livestock Services told The Business Standard that they heard some people were rearing these animals as a hobby.
"We do not have any information on commercial farming of Dumba in the country," he said.