These days everyone thinks of camels here as the animals that give tourists rides in Timanfaya, but camels are an indispensable part of Lanzarote’s history, and together with their human partners, they helped shape the island over five centuries.
The first camels here were brought over from Africa in the late 1400’s, very soon after the conquest of Lanzarote. They are actually Dromedaries, as they have one hump rather than two. Camels are incredibly bouyant because of their large stomachs, and they were actually brought to Lanzarote floating and towed by boats from Africa.
Perfectly Suited to Lanzarote
Camels are ideally suited to Lanzarote:
- They have very mobile lips which enable them to eat the thorny scrub here
- They are able to close their nostrils to keep out sand and dust
- They have two rows of eyelashes and small ears for the same reason
- Their feet are very wide, with super hard pads that enable them to walk comfortably on stony ground
- They can go for 10 days without water – essential with our lack of rainfall
How they were used
Camels were the ubiquitous animal for the transport of people (much better suited to the island than horses,) goods and as general farm workers.
Camels transported all the goods between the ports and towns of the island, carrying onions, salt, fish, fruit and vegetables.
Almost all of the development of places like La Geria would have been impossible without the strong animals that moved rocks and brought in building materials and water for the vines.
On farms they were used to plough the fields and turn the mills that ground wheat or gofio, crushing them into flour.
Camels were the water supply network for Lanzarote right up until the desalination plant started working in the 1960’s. They would deliver water to homes all over the island.
Camels were also prized for their very nutritious milk, used as a treatment for anaemia and TB. Once they died, their hair and skins were used for making clothing.
As recently as 1949, there were more than 3,000 camels on the island.
When the first tourists arrived, in the late 19th century, camels became the island’s taxis, with visitors sitting in the so called “English Chairs” which had been designed to make riding them more comfortable. Today, these “English chairs” are made by artisan workers based in Uga.
But with the arrival of cars, buses and tractors, and the advent of mass tourism, the use for the island’s camels gradually faded away. It was the people of Yazia who first came up with the idea of using the herd to transport people around Timanfaya, and in the 1960’s, riding a camel was the only way to see the Fire Mountains.
Once the bus route had been established there in the 1970’s, the camel owners were given special licences to offer rides in specific parts of the the fire mountain area.
The majority of the 400 remaining camels on the island are now used for this purpose, walking each day on a rotation basis to the Echadero de los Camellos in Timanfaya from their stables in Uga, spending the day giving rides, before returning home in the afternoons. The camels support a total of 40 families on the island, who make their living from the rides, and they care for the camels to the highest standard. During the pandemic, they had a special dispensation to continue to exercise the animals, and the families continued to buy their feed despite receiving no income.
They also star each year in the Three King’s Processions on 5th January, delivering the Kings and the presents for all the children of the island.
So the camel has gone from being an indispensable tool for the development of the island, to a tourist attraction, but they remain very much identified with the island and are a much loved and respected part of the history of Lanzarote.
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