Finnish veterinarian Pentti Koivisto devotes his time to creating speedier camel breeds.
Teksti: Laura Kaapro
How does a vet from Finland become a camel farmer in the United Arab Emirates? The story is not the most common one.
Pentti Koivisto moved to the UAE seven years ago to work as a veterinarian in an endurance horse riding stable.
During his stay he constantly came across another species significant to the Middle East: the camel. He became fascinated by these majestic creatures.
“I got interested in camel breeding and embryo transfer technology. I happened to hear of a Sheikh who had embryo transfers done in his camel farm”, says Koivisto. “I went to introduce myself and to express my interest. The Sheikh took me in to his farm as an intern.”
The word spread about an ambitious vet, and three years ago Koivisto received a phone call from the Food Control Authority of Abu Dhabi. The caller offered Koivisto a job as an Embryo Transfer Specialist.
“I immediately said yes.”
In his work, Koivisto treats privately owned camels. The UAE government wants to offer free embryo transfer services for camel farmers, as camel milk production and camel races are such a valuable part of UAE’s culture and heritage.
The publicly provided service is very popular. Private sector vets charge 20–40 thousand dirhams for a similar procedure.
Koivisto treats the best-qualified female camels with hormones to cause what is called a super ovulation. During that time the camels are bred. After the fertilization, embryos are flushed from the uterus and transferred to the recipient camels.
Last year Koivisto and his colleague performed 500 embryo transfers. Approximately half of the transfers are successful. During this year about 250 new camel babies will see the light of day. A camel gestation lasts a full year.
Koivisto has had his own camel farm for five years and he now has seven camels.
The idea about being a camel farmer came to him during his internship. The Sheikh took him to a camel race, and Koivisto noticed that camels were being tested for doping. He wondered why.
Koivisto learned, that His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the President of the UAE, would buy all winning camels that pass the doping test on that day. His Highness would pay 2 million dirhams for a winning camel, 1.5 million for a second placed, and 1 million for a third placed camel.
“I liked the sound of that”, says Koivisto, laughing.
But getting rich was not motivating enough. Koivisto was first and foremost intrigued by the idea of training camels in a scientific way.
“I saw how the locals trained their camels. It sparked me. I wanted to show, what I know about training race animals.”
Koivisto thinks that creating great racers requires not only successful breeding, but more importantly smart training.
Locals walk their camels for long distances. Koivisto’s camels canter three times a week or trot several times a week, depending on the phase of the training program: weather it is basic training season, pre-racing season or racing season.
Koivisto also uses interval training methods. He monitors camels’ heartbeats to follow their performance and progress. Once a week he runs blood tests on his camels.
“Muscular enzymes in blood show if the animal is training too much or the appropriate amount”, explains Koivisto.
Koivisto recently began cooperating with a Finnish company Lymed, that manufactures pressure garments. The clothes look like tight swimwear, but they help the animals recover more quickly from hard training and races.
“Garments are made to measure. We have tested them with a couple of our camels, and the results look very promising”, says Koivisto.
The trainer is also very precise about the diet of his racers.
“In the UAE camels usually eat dates, honey and milk. Camels do need sugars, but I add disaccharides and polysaccharides into their diet”, says Koivisto. “Rumen holds those sugars, and they will absorb later. I believe this kind of diet enhances camels’ performance.”
Camel race season begun in October and goes on until March. This year Koivisto’s camels will take part in the races for the first time.
“I will still keep my day job”, Koivisto says with a big smile. “But if I can get three of my camels to win a race, then I can quit.”
Camel that wins with a good race time will definitely get sold – for big money. Major race events are held in December, and large sums of cash are at stake.
Local camel farmers are not envious or intimidated by Koivisto’s knowhow and expertise. Instead, they ask for advice, and also follow them.
“Being the only western face at a race always causes nothing but positive interest and admire”, says Koivisto with gratitude.