Watch out for humps as camels cross scenic desert spot in China

Tourists riding on camels pass a camel traffic light at the Mingsha Mountain and Yueya Spring scenic area in Gansu, China on Feb 14. - CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

LANZHOU: A line of camels appeared as silhouettes as the sun set on snow-covered dunes, their bells evoking the grandeur of the ancient Silk Road as they rang through the desert.

But the reason they were stationary had a distinctly modern twist - a camel traffic light.

A red camel signifies “stop”, while green indicates “go” following the installation of a dozen camel traffic lights at Mingsha Mountain and Yueya Spring, a scenic spot surrounded by sand dunes in Northwest China’s Gansu province.

The unique traffic lights, originally designed to alleviate traffic congestion in the desert, garnered widespread media attention in 2023 and have become a popular tourist attraction.

Wang Youxia, deputy general manager of the company responsible for the scenic spot’s operations, said more than 3.7 million tourists visited in 2023, with 42 per cent opting for camel rides. Since December, visitor numbers have surged 22.6 per cent compared with the same period in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The substantial increase in tourist arrivals has resulted in significant revenue for local camel herders, with Zhao Wenlong among the beneficiaries.

Zhao, 42, is an experienced camel breeder from the Yueya Spring village who owns 21 camels.

In the 1990s, before the establishment of the scenic area, only a few farmers in the village were engaged in camel husbandry. Locals used to rely on apricot cultivation as their main source of income. However, due to the village’s proximity to the desert, farmland would often be engulfed by sandstorms, resulting in bad harvests and low returns.

“Our village was so poor that there was barely any girl willing to marry young men from here,” village head Qin Zuotao recalled.

The rapid development of tourism has sparked hope for prosperity, and villagers are venturing into the camel walking business at the scenic spot.

Recreational activities for tourists initially revolved around posing for photos on the back of a camel but gradually included short camel rides. They now offer hourlong camel treks in the desert.

A regular camel trek costs 100 yuan (US$14), with the camel owner earning 70 yuan. In summer, the peak season, the scenic area is home to roughly 2,000 camels dedicated to tourism, with each camel undertaking three treks a day.

Qin said that 80 per cent of the village’s 274 households are now involved in camel-related tourism.

That also means competition has intensified, and to ensure fair working and resting times for each camel, the village has decided to issue camel licences.

The scenic area has offered camel herders training on visitor reception protocols and emergency procedures.

They also learn to speak basic English for better communication with foreign tourists.

Over the years, Zhao the camel breeder has accumulated valuable experience in sustaining and growing his business.

He bought two rare camels, one white and one with a mixed coat, after discovering that some visitors preferred to pose for camel-back selfies on animals with unusual fur.

And because he is concerned that the vivid colors of tourists’ clothing might startle the camels, Zhao often hangs bright banners in the camel enclosures to acclimatise the animals to such hues.

“The safety of camels ensures the safety of tourists,” he said.

His family earns 500,000 yuan a year from camel rides, but he spends more than 100,000 yuan a year caring for the animals.

In the summer months, he gives his camels nutritious feed and fresh fruit to help them cool down.

He also takes them to the vet for annual checkups.

“They are like family to me,” Zhao said. - Xinhua

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China , camels , desert , traffic lights


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