Meet the UAE’s number one teenage camel campaigner
You know you’re getting old when 13-year-old boys have more awards than you; but, in fairness, we haven’t done much to save any camels. The same cannot be said of young Cameron Oliver, the UAE’s very own desert crusader, who, at a tender age, has accrued more recognition and UAE column inches than most Nobel laureates.
It’s a tale that started last year, explains Cameron, when the young South African read an article about camels dying after eating litter left in the desert. ‘I looked outside and I saw all this litter. I wanted to make a difference, so I started a campaign,’ he explains to Time Out.
Sounds easy, eh? Yes, simplification is the blessing of the young, but the details are brief enough to fill in. His campaign actually began as a school project. It was soon picked up by the local press, and later the international media (Reuters news service recently made a video documenting his work). Awards quickly followed, with recognition at the 2008 Abu Dhabi Awards (‘It was like an Oscar to me,’ gushes Cameron) and now an International Young Eco-Hero Award, which he recently flew to San Francisco to receive.
So, that just about brings us up to date. But for those still curious, the man who wrote the original local news item about Cameron was one Dr Ulli, who has since become a firm friend and inspiration to Cameron. So it goes: the doctor visited Ras Al Khaimah and headed to an area where land owners had dragged the carcasses of more than 30 camels that had died by ingesting rubbish. He christened it ‘Death Valley’, and it made enough of an impression on him and his young protégé to kick-start Cameron’s Camel Campaign and the whole chain of events that you’ve just read.
The root cause of the problem is litter. ‘It mostly comes from campers and day trippers in the desert, although the wind also blows in rubbish from the city,’ says Cameron. Aesthetically, litter is a problem for everyone, but for camels and other animals it is a lot more serious.
‘When they eat the plastic it calcifies in their stomachs and forms a hard rock. They think they’re full, they don’t eat any more and they just lie down and die a slow, painful death – their whole system just shuts down.’ The life expectancy of such a creature is perilously short: the younger camels die in three days, the older ones die in three months, explains Cameron.
His campaign has therefore focused on reducing litter. He’s done presentations in schools, as well as organising 4x4 trips into the desert to collect rubbish – quite a feat for someone who is at least three years away from a provisional driving licence. Naturally, he has had help along the way, not just from friends and his school, but from the Middle East 4x4 Club. The last trip saw a convoy of around 40 jeeps set off into the desert, explains Cameron’s mother, who is just as passionate on the subject of littering. ‘You actually see people rolling down the windows and throwing out bags,’ she says. ‘The sad thing for us is that this is the heritage of the UAE.’ Definitely a case of like mother, like son.
When asked what the future holds, Cameron replies with the certainty of a seasoned campaigner. ‘What I want to do is get my message into malls and on those big billboards – I want to get my logo out there. Also, you know those stickers you see on [the rear windows of] taxis? I want to use them and then also get into more schools.’ Where will it all end, we wonder? ‘When every camel is saved,’ comes the swift reply. Still only 13, there are precious few distractions in life for Cameron and he is undoubtedly a remarkably focused young man. He has also hit upon a real problem in the UAE – litter has become the blight of every picnic, camping and off-road spot in the emirates, with many just dumping their remains and leaving without a moment’s thought. Before it was an irritant, now, it seems, it is a genuine tragedy, with hundreds of animals in the UAE affected each year. That it has taken just one determined 13-year-old boy to make people take notice is all the more astonishing. But if there’s one young man who can do so, it’s Cameron. Long may he continue. To join Cameron on one of the 4x4 desert clean-up trips, see www.cameronscamelcampaign.com to register and receive updates of times and locations.