Like Sumo Wrestling, With Lots Of Spit: Camels Tussle In Turkey Call it "the rumble by the ruins." Each year, Turkey's toughest camels gather in Selcuk, near the Aegean Sea, for the Camel Wrestling Championship. It's a Turkic tradition dating back thousands of years. But it is a tradition under threat.

Like Sumo Wrestling, With Lots Of Spit: Camels Tussle In Turkey

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Obama versus Rambo may sound like a satiric Onion headline for the gun control debate, but it's actually a must-see matchup on Turkey's Aegean Coast. The competitors? Two male camels. Yep, it's camel wrestling season in Turkey. And reporter Nathan Rott sent us this postcard from the season's biggest event.

ISMAIL EGILMEZ: (Foreign language spoken)


NATHAN ROTT, BYLINE: Cilgin - or Crazy - Hasan, as he's known in the arena, is a one-ton behemoth; a Tulu camel dressed in bright embroidered cloths, neon-green pompoms and a traditional wooden saddle with the untraditional word Bulldozer printed on the harness. Ismail Egilmez is his owner and right now, he's giving him some last minute pointers.


ROTT: That doesn't sound like Turkish though, so I ask my translator, Emre Danisan, what he's saying.

EMRE DANISAN: I don't know. He's speaking cameleon. Camelish. I don't know. Really, I don't understand.

ROTT: Well, whatever it is, it seems to work. Cilgin is literally frothing at the mouth.


ROTT: There are over a hundred bell-wearing camels here today and they're all bound for the same place: a natural amphitheater, tucked a few short miles away from the town of Selcuk and the ancient ruins of Ephesus. This is a place riddled with history, and camel wrestling is no different. But it's a sport in decline. For modern Turks, the idea of watching two humped ungulates tangle just doesn't hold the same appeal as, say, YouTube. But you wouldn't know that here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: (Foreign language spoken)

ROTT: Vendors hawk commemorative shawls and a Turkish liquor called Rocky. The air is thick with the smoke of sizzling camel sausage. And after a few hours of waiting in the crowd, we get our cue.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

ROTT: Ismail gives a confident nod as he leads Cilgin into the ring. His opponent is similarly sized and wearing bright pink. It used to be a female camel would be in the ring with them - nature's way of instigating a fight. Today though, the owners just pull the camels into each other. It works. Cilgin leans in from the right. His opponent nips at his legs. They get in an awkward side-by-side headlock. And the announcer gives a play by play.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: (Foreign language spoken)

ROTT: To win, one camel must knock the other down or send it running in a 10-minute time limit. But that seldom happens. People compare this to bullfighting, but it's more like sumo wrestling with lots and lots and lots of spit. And truth be told, the actual wrestling is, well, kind of boring.


ROTT: The match ends in a draw. No surprise - most do - but it is a little disappointing. But the crowd doesn't miss a beat. Between the beer, the music and the seared camel, they're busy. For NPR News, I'm Nathan Rott.


MARTIN: This is NPR News.

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