17 Bizarre Scenes From Turkey’s Camel Wrestling Festivals

Published September 6, 2016
Updated January 23, 2018

Considering wrestling for a moment. You’re probably thinking of sumo or muscular guys in unitards…Unless you’re from Turkey, in which case, you might have thought of the country’s celebrated camel wrestling festivals.

Yes, you read that right. Dating back more 2,000 years, these festivals pit two bull camels against each other for the right to mate with a female camel in heat — and a lot of prize money. Here are 17 unbelievable photos from those festivities:

Camel Wrestling Arena
Camel wrestling goes back 2,400 years. Nomadic Turkic tribes, who saw the camels wrestling for dominance in the wild, decided to recreate it.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Parade
Turkey's camel wrestling organizers hold about 30 events around the country from November to March, the camel's breeding season.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Head
The Camel Wrestling Championship held in Selçuk, Turkey is the biggest event of its kind. It takes place on Turkey's Aegean coast, near the UNESCO Heritage site of Ephesus. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Upclose
The festival in Selçuk also involves a camel beauty pageant: The day before the championship, handlers dress up their camels with decorative rugs, bells, and pom-poms, and march them through the streets in a parade.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Rope
The festivities in Selçuk attract around 150 camels and their owners, and as many as 20,000 spectators. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Teodora
Wrestling bouts usually only last ten minutes, with handlers circling the dueling animals in case the fight becomes too violent.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Fallling
The camel that gets his adversary to fall to the ground or retreat from the arena wins the match. Some camels try to sit on their opponents, or trip them with a foot move called cengelci.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Handlers
When the camels get excited, they spray foamy saliva from their mouths. Camels are also retromingent, meaning they pee backwards, so onlookers must also be wary of stray streams of urine. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Blood
Traditionally, the bull camels are supposed to fight it out for the attention of a female camel in heat, who, until recently, was kept in a pen near the arena to rile up the competitors. But since the females' presence provoked violent reactions from the bulls, handlers usually just push the camels together to avoid excessive aggression.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Handler Rug
Camels bred for wrestling in Turkey are called Tülu, which means hybrid. The camels are divided into classes, similar to human wrestlers, depending on their weight and age. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Sky
Camels born in Turkey are not suited for this type of fighting, so many of the camels that actually wrestle are imported from Iran and Afghanistan. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Car
In the 1850s, Confederate leader Jefferson Davis was so inspired by the popularity of camel wrestling in Turkey that he tried to start a camel wrestling tournament in Texas. The start of the Civil War interrupted his plans. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Necks
According to Turkey's animal rights laws, these festivals are technically illegal, and small towns need permission from the state government to hold the matches. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Kiss
Wrestling camels are a valuable commodity: The winner of a match can fetch as much as $25,000 in prize money.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Wrestling Sober
Camels' names sometimes reflect their fierce or powerful nature, with names often taken from pop culture. One 2013 festival, for example, featured a match-up between "Obama" and "Rambo."Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camel Procession
Though camel wrestling events are popular tourist attractions, locals also attend the events.Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Camels On The Street
Around 1,200 camels bred specifically for wrestling remain in Turkey today. That said, the popularity of the sport is declining because of animal rights activists' concerns and the growing cost of carrying for these animals. Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Next, read up on the camel that bit off its owner's head after being tied up in the heat all day. Then, check out La Tomatina, Spain's bizarre tomato-throwing festival, and see photos from the world's ten most fascinating nude festivals and events. Finally, see some of the most incredible Andre the Giant photos that you won't believe aren't photoshopped.

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John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.