Camel Nose Pegs - To Use Or Not To Use?
We’re putting ourselves under a great, big, bright spotlight here and bringing a much misunderstood and debated subject to the forefront. When there's animals and issues concerning welfare are involved everyone has an opinion - especially when it comes to something like the For and Against using nose pegs on camels. We like the that the discussion can be an open one and we especially like it when people question the use of a camel nose peg, as you are about to find out there are many different ways people use them.
One of the most discussed topics when dealing with camels is about nose pegs. These discussions can become rather heated with emotional as viewpoints can vary almost as much as the backgrounds of the camels and their handlers themselves. So what are the arguments For and Against the use of the nose pegs on camels and is there a happy medium to assist balancing the scales of this widely discussed topic?
There is a story (or myth) that once a horseman tried putting a horses ‘bit’ into a camels mouth only to find out that it was impossible due to their mouth biology - it would impede the bottom jaw swinging widely when the camel is chewing the cud.
The use of nose pegs has a deep root in the pages of cameleering history, from many different camel cultures. In a majority of traditional camel cultures, nose pegs are made from wooden stakes which are pierced into the soft side flesh of the camels nose or elsewhere on the nose or upper lip, which then a string or line is attached and used to control the camels neck and head movements, hence the overall body movements of the camel.
ONE example of a camel's nose peg in Inda.
Many traditional camel cultures still use this method of control over the animals and one could easily argue that this IS, in fact acceptable being in third world conditions and locations where survival is key. Considering environmental factors, feed, water availability, sex and ages of the camels, timing of the bull camels hormonal cycles, wealth of the camel owners and accessibility to modern handling and training techniques are considered factors for the use of nose pegs.
We’ve personally had a variety of exposure to camel nose pegs. In India we’ve seen rings in one nostril and wooden pegs through two nostrils. In Mongolia we’ve seen the camel’s upper lip (not nose) been ‘pegged’ and of course about four different varieties of nose pegs used in Australia from one piece timber pegs to polycarbonate two piece (which is now what we use). Some are confronting and concerning and others you wouldn’t even know that they are there. All in all, experience, an open mind and an inkling to understanding individual situations does help.
Traditional Mongolian Camel Nose Peg
In more affluent and developed countries, the debate has taken a new twist over the past decades swinging towards the argument that perhaps nose pegs are not required at all? How can that be since the much longer lasting camel cultures are still using traditional nose pegs in such a manner as they have done so for thousands of years?
We need to look at some of the more fundamental differences of the two camel culture sets to find answers to this question and answer the equally important question of how can camels become controlled effectively without the use of nose pegs.
Two sayings come to mind (with exception of Bull camels):
1. A Happy Camel is a Safe Camel.
2. A Hungry and Thirsty Camel is a Dangerous Camel.
We’ll come back to these two points a little later, but keep an open mind as you read further. These two points or ‘sayings’ about the camel will help you (the handler, cameleer) see differently when understanding safe camel handling and a camel’s main priority in life.
Compassion For Camels and Humans, Who Wins The Day?
The more developed camel cultures (like most people reading this) have the luxury of being in a position to consider and implement more of the elements to a camel’s life that all good camel owners strive for. We’re talking plenty good quality feed and a wide variety of the camels feeding preferences. Generally speaking, camels that belong to owners from affluent countries are well fed, well watered and have a fairly sedately life compared to that of the working camel in a third world country where the owners, and their families, depend upon the camel for daily life requirements. Camels in many arid zones around the world are often synonymous with low standards of living for the owners and generally speaking, life is really hard for both humans and camels.
These camels, in third world countries, may, and do experience long periods of hunger and thirst, hard work and often great levels of control is needed by the handler.
Now lets go back to our two major points about camels:
1. A Happy Camel is a Safe Camel.
2. A Hungry and Thirsty Camel is a Dangerous Camel.
When a camel has more than adequate resources and they are ‘happy, fat and full’ (another saying of ours) they are easier to handle as they’re not thinking about food or water. Just think when you’re hungry or thirsty, all you can think about is food and water and sometimes get agitated, same is said for the camel. No matter what species, we’re all driven by food and water - The key elements to life.
This abundance for the affluent camel (affluent in the camels case is having plenty of good quality food, a wide variety of favourite foods - not treats, good clean water, necessary vitamin and mineral supplements and veterinary access), steers the camel towards being a safer camel, especially with correct and carefully structured training, handling procedures and even routines in place, compared to the camel who is continuously looking for food, vitality and water. The affluent camel is more likely to become compliant for the handler and therefore when trained correctly and compassionately the camel will not have the need for such a device as a nose peg in order for the handler maintain control over the camel. Not once have we ever used a nose peg to train a camel.
So often is the case in less affluent situations, the main focus is on the owner’s and their family’s daily requirements and less of the camel’s requirements purely owing to situation and circumstances. These camels are more than likely to require the use of the nose peg for control and maintenance of work practises. Therefore, who can be the judge?
It’s so easy for us more fortunate ones to stand on the sideline critiquing camel handling in countries less fortunate than us. Sometimes it feels like one has to choose between human rights (right to food source - i.e. camel’s milk or trading selling for money), or animal rights (right to be treated fairly). How can anyone choose? From where we’re sitting we cannot choose between human and animal as we see them equally, so we’ve made it our ‘job’ to do the best we can in the county we live in and help as many other people understand a camel’s thinking for good handling and training practices.
Much of the argument of For and Against the use of nose pegs has been centred around different opinions within the more western countries and, once again, there are strong reasons to have nose pegs and also not to have nose pegs.
Nose pegs, along with other methods of control over the camel certainly do have their place in our more modern camel cultures, but they are not necessary for each and every camel in each and every situation.
There's no doubt about it, camels are loved all across the globe.
Never assume that all camels need a nose peg for training or handling.
Take for example the camel that is located in a situation where it’s never going to leave the confines of a secure property, is never going to be utilised in a commercial sense, i.e. riding operation or even in contact with members of the public, obviously won’t require a camel nose peg.
Camel’s that are supposedly ‘uncontrollable’ by their ‘nature’ - these camels are few and far between. Again, good, non-violent and non-dominating training over time usually leads to good camels not needing nose pegs, a rope attached to a halter is mostly sufficient.
The camel whose handler has effectively trained the camel with good quality non-dominating, non-violent and no treat training techniques has the trust of its owner and the owner has the trust of the camel, so much so that you can almost read each other like books. This is not to say that at times, the camel may “spook” at a new situations that it comes across, but is nevertheless under an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. When under periods of added stress and pressure, i.e. walking the camel along a road with traffic, the handler always has the option of using a nose loop or a chocker halter as a backup.
The Nose Loop - Alternative to camel nose peg while handling, this come with its safety measures too.
For the commercial operator, it is our personal and professional opinion that nose pegs are essential, however it is howthe nose peg is used/handled and with what materials it is made from that makes all the difference between a professional cameleer's approach and a novice.
A camel riding / camel expedition / camel safari operation, for example, could be using one of the following methods of camel control, starting from the least amount of potential control to the most potential control using ropes, halters, chocker halters and nose pegs:
1. A lead rope tied around the neck of the camel and attached to the camel in front.
2. A lead rope attached to a halter and then to the camel in front.
3. A lead rope being attached to a chocker halter and then to the camel in front
4. A rope attached to a nose peg and then to the camel in front
Lead camel with nose peg and hander with nose peg line, remaining camels one behind the other with headstalls and lead ropes and breakable nose lines attached to camel in front.
One of our camels in professional riding operation: being lead by headstall and lead with nose line as backup.
Overall, as far a camel management and safety for the riders, operators and camels themselves, the 5th option is by far the best practise option. As the operator is in control of the nose line of the lead camel, he/she is responsible for the welfare of the camels nose and would need to manage the pressure placed upon the nose peg to ensure that the use of the nose line and nose peg is regulated at a safe and gentle level. The camels following behind have breakable nose lines without any damage to the nose tissue and the nose peg - New nose lines are easy to replace, you can’t replace a camels nose or memory. In a legal matter, should anything ever happen and a rider is injured under the instruction of a professional camel riding operator, the operator has protected himself / herself and the rider as best as they could by using the 5th option.
Camel being lead through busy town by headstall and lead with nose line as a backup, Note that the nose lead ins't being pulled on.
What Do We Use And Why?
Well, it depends what we’re doing. Most of our herd of camels don't have nose pegs, but most of our more experienced camels (working camels) have nose pegs: When we operate on the beach offering camel rides we do headstalls with leads & breakable nose lines (#5 above). When trekking (no riders) we use head stalls only, expect the lead camel has a nose line (like above picture). “But, if you’re so sure of Trust Based Camel Training, why use nose pegs at all?” We hear you ask. We’re glad you asked!
1. As stated above we never train camels using nose pegs, it goes against all Trust Based Camel Training values.
2. Even when a camel has a nose peg, we lead by the head, not the nose. The nose line is there when we require additional control (for example, 10 camels bucking in a string).
In a riding operation where all camel's nose pegs are used, again, lead by headstall by camel in front and they all (expect lead camel with handler) have a breakable nose lead so no damage of nose can ever occur.
A Camel’s nose peg can be used Gently and with Compassion under the right introduction and handling.
NB: All our camels are not shy of us touching their noses or placing leads on nose pegs due to prior training of 'winning the head' through the Camel Connection Trust Based Camel Training®.
What we don’t recommend - ‘The Sixth Option’:
The 6th option has all camels connected one behind the other with non-breakable nose leads - a massive risk to camels and handlers using unbreakable nose lines.
Here's the ‘risks’ of unbreakable nose lines used on camels:
Should the camels spook and go into a “buck”, there is high risk the camel will either break their nose pegs (internal splintering can occur), rip the nose peg out of the pierced hole in their soft tissue or worst still, rip the soft tissue of their nose, therefore requiring stitches and increasing the risk of infection and bacterial poisoning.
Or simply, the camel in front or behind losses its footing and slips, it take all the other camels with it (as they are attached to one another) and potential all nose pegs are broken and or nose pegs ripped completely out.
Hence why we do not endorse non-breakable nose peg lines, for the safety of camel and it's handler, (except for the lead camel under the control of the handler).
To Nose Peg or Not To Nose Peg? Here’s a Little Story That Might Help…
We once heard of a very experienced cameleer who had a very trusted and experienced camel. This camel had all the trust in the world for it’s handler and vice versa. One day when walking along a road, the camel was suddenly startled by an unexpected vehicle travelling along the road they were accustomed to. As this camel was an experienced and well behaved camel under instruction, the camel did not have any other form of control other than a lead rope and halter. The camel went into a wild bucking session and luckily, the vehicle managed to swerve, narrowing missing the bucking camel and the handler. Much kudos to the cameleer who somehow, by using all of their expertise of camel handling, avoided a potentially disastrous situation.
A dangerous situation not only for the camel, the cameleer, the vehicle driver or anyone else this incident could have involved, but also to all camel owners in the sense that camels would have been placed into the spotlight by mediaand the uninformed in that camels could have been referred to as being uncontrollable, dangerous and unreliable, hence adding to the myths that they are cantankerous, biting, kicking, spitting creatures to be feared.
Fortunately for all, the cameleer, being a responsible camel owner and handler ensured that from that day forward, the camel wore a nose peg and line after the handler trained the camel into gently using a nose peg and nose line as well as headstall and lead at all times when walking and operating the camel in all situations and locations.
One can only imagine the potential consequences if the vehicle had of struck the camel, the handler and / or others in its attempts to swerve to avoid the uncontrollable scared camel and handler.
Knowing this particular story a responsible camel owner would seriously consider the options available to them for methods of control in an unpredictable or emergency situation. A camel handlers level of training/experience - especially type of training of both the camel and the cameleer has real risk (including litigation) that the handler/owner must be willing to accept.
(Note: All responsible camel owners should seriously consider having a high quality insurance policy purely as a safeguard along with having received or invested in specialised professional camel training and handling).
Training Camels Into Nose Pegs - Gently
As you know by now we don’t endorse using nose pegs to train camels, but what is required is training a camel intothe nose peg. A camel’s first use of a nose peg is crucial to it’s mental development and they are much like elephants - they never forget! A camel will not forget it’s first experience with a nose line attached to a nose peg that’s why it’s important to us that we cover proper and good handling of a camel’s nose peg for the first time or for the most experience camel - which happens to be all the same… Gently. We teach these gentle methods to our Cameleer Academy community through instructional videos as well as onsite during our Level 2, Advanced Camel Training.
Fair and compassionate camel handling is the aim. As a camel owner you’re 100% responsible for whatever happens to the camels in your possession. Assume the camel is always the victim, as 99.9% of the time it’s the lack of understand of the camel that leads to camels being ‘unpredictable’ or ‘misbehaving’ therefore using the best possible resources available to you is key: learning camel phycology and good handling and training practices.
Nose Peg Insertion
Insertion of a camels nose peg, ideally should be under anaesthetic and veterinary practice. In the modern world we have these options, so if you have it, take it. Our camels are done on the farm with a vet present, we instruct the vet on where the small incision (not hole) needs to be made for our style of nose peg. Again, our camel community have access to veterinary instructional videos as it’s our upmost priority that information be delivered which makes mistakes avoidable.
In other countries it’s a whole different ball game.
Types of Nose Pegs
Top pictures: traditional to Mongolia (R) and India (L). Bottom pictures used in western cultures. These are only some examples - there are many more styles of nose pegs.
Some nose pegs would be more accepted in the western world than the more 'traditional' style nose pegs in other parts of the world. For instance if we were to insert a traditional Mongolian camel nose peg (top left picture above) into one of our camels here in Australia we're sure that the animal welfare groups will be called upon.
Traditionally there are many styles of nose pegs along with different ways the nose pegs are “inserted” through the nostril, bridge of nose or lip. Most were and still are, made from wood. Some were made from bone. Essentially, the principle of the nose pegs from around the world throughout traditional camel cultures is the same: using a peg of sorts attached to a rope or string to control a camel.
It goes without saying that we have learnt a great deal since traditional times as technology, veterinary and science advances have escalated in recent years and this can be directly related to the use of camel nose pegs as well.
Camel Nose Pegs, Potential Health Risks
Taking into consideration our discussion earlier in this blog, of the differences between affluent and not so affluent camel cultures around the world, there is greater veterinary knowledge available regarding the safe and humane methods of inserting such an item as a nose peg than what we have ever had previously. We have a greater understanding of infection control and management and even of the best possible materials to use in the creation of a safe nose peg that doesn’t splinter, break and or harbour dangerous bacterial infections.
To take advantage of this new knowledge involves having an open mind, prepared to make an investment of both knowledge and willingness to strive for better.
For example, traditional wooden nose pegs can splinter and even break. This can lead to the camels nose becoming infected which, if left untreated, can dangerously lead to septicaemia. Septicaemia has the potential of being fatal.
Even if the nose peg isn’t splintered or broken, bacteria can continuously reproduce in the pores of the wood / bone of the traditional style nose pegs, which, can continue to infect the camel even if the camel is undergoing a course of effective antibiotics. Only if the infection is fully removed from the pores of the wooden / bone nose peg or, the nose peg is totally removed and a new sterile nose peg inserted in conjunction with a course of effective and specific antibiotic, will the infection be cured.
Modern materials such as polycarbonate can make excellent nose pegs which don’t allow for any bacteria to harbour on the surface or inside the material and will never break under normal use.
Safer Alternatives for Camel Nose Pegs
The nose pegs we use and get custom engineered have a removable end tip resulting in the nose peg being easily removed from the camels nose should the need arise without distressing or hurting the camel. These removable tipped nose pegs are also easier to insert into the nose piercing than the traditional solid ended nose pegs as there is no stretching of the flesh when being inserted into the nose.
Modern Camel nose peg made from polycarbonate and removable. Inserted via veterinary and under anaesthetic.
Owning and handling a camel is a pure delight and also involves a high level of responsibility and this includes the methods used to control the camel. Whether or not you as a camel owner decide to use a nose peg, the responsibility for the health and welfare of the camel, the camel’s handlers and all those in proximity of the camel is yours to bear. More importantly, it's important that if you do decide to nose peg your camel(s) please seek a professional advice in management and handling - for your and your camel's sake. Where here to help!
Everyone’s situation is unique in it’s own right. What’s right for you may not be right for others. The choice is yours at the end of the day.
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