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AP PHOTOS: Camels wrestle in traditional Turkish event

January 24, 2019
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In this Sunday, Jan. 20, 2019 photo, camels bearing elaborately decorated saddles, wrestle during Turkey's largest camel wrestling festival in the Aegean town of Selcuk, Turkey. While smaller festivals are held across the country during the winter months _ traditionally camel mating season _ the one in Selcuk, just a few miles from the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, is the largest and most prestigious. This year's instalment of the competition brought together some 120 camels and their proud owners. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

SELCUK, Turkey (AP) — Braveheart, Crazy Hasan, The Conqueror and Black Diamond were among the furry, hump-backed contestants in this year’s annual sporting showdown in Turkey: camel wrestling.

Thousands of spectators gathered in the Aegean town of Selcuk to watch the event, a tradition that dates back 2,400 years. While smaller festivals are held across the country during the winter months — traditionally camel mating season — the one in Selcuk, just a few miles from the ancient Greek city of Ephesus, is the largest and most prestigious. The 37th installment of the competition brought together about 120 camels and their proud owners, many of whom adorned their animals with the red-and-white Turkish flag.

The pouty-lipped competitors weigh in at an average of 600 kilograms (1,300 pounds) and are decorated with multicolored pompoms and ornate headdresses. With their humps hidden under embroidered saddles, the wrestlers strut into the arena two at a time and duke it out, generally within short distance of a female camel in heat.

Each battle ends within minutes, often to thunderous cheering from the crowds. A victor is declared when one of the camels falls to the ground or runs out of the field. Most matches, however, end in a draw because owners fear their prized animals could be harmed during the rough sparring.

The festival is also more than just wrestling. The day before the competition, the bedecked camels are paraded through town in a beauty pageant. During the main event, musicians perform traditional folk songs and families barbecue in the hills overlooking the arena, feasting on meat and sausage washed down by raki, Turkey’s traditional anise alcoholic beverage.

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Ayse Wieting reported from Istanbul.