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The ‘Kharai’ camels are a unique breed of camels that can swim. The camels swim long distances in the sea to reach its grazing areas, usually more than 3 km at a time even in deep waters.
They eat large volumes of mangroves or saline plant species. During the monsoon, the camels are often left on the mangrove islands for three months. With rainwater collected in depressions on the land, they have a drinking water source. An adult camel requires about 20 to 40 litres of water a day. During summer and winter, their stay on the islands last three days at a time.
The number of these camels, spread out across six coastal districts of Gujarat, has dwindled to 5,000. They are bred by two distinct communities — the Fakirani Jats, who are the handlers, and the Rabaris, who own the animals.
Today, the Kharai breeders face many challenges. The steadily decreasing mangroves because of heavy industrialisation along the coast have affected the traditional grazing routes.
They are now demanding the declaration of mangrove forests as ‘protected areas’. They say that this is the only way to save this species from extinction.