In the Rann of Kutch, Kharai camels walk on water

The Fakirani Jats inhabit the Rann of Kutch, where the 2500 sq-km Banni grassland segues into salt marshes and marine mangrove wetlands abutting the Arabian Sea. The livelihood of this pastoralist community is built around their pack animals, particularly the rare and hardy Kharai camel, a breed uniquely adapted to the region’s terrain and climate. As increased salt extraction and industrialisation fragment the fragile mangroves and force the herdsmen away from their traditional livelihood, the Kharai has become an endangered breed. A local organisation, Sahjeevan, has intervened with multiple initiatives to support the Fakirani Jats and sustain their traditional occupation of camel pastoralism. In the third episode of Stories Of Change with Anuradha Nagaraj, we train the spotlight on Sahjeevan’s work among the camel herders of western Gujarat. 

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During the monsoon, most of the low-lying Rann of Kutch is inundated with water from the overflowing seasonal rivers that intermingle with the saline water of the sea, creating a unique salt-marsh ecosystem that is rich in biodiversity despite its extreme conditions. In the dry season, this water evaporates, leaving behind a shimmering expanse of crystalline salt. On the fringes of this great white desert are grasslands, precious resources used by traditional pastoralist communities like the Fakirani Jats to graze their livestock. Only a few hardy domestic animal breeds are adapted to this habitat. Among them is the Kharai camel, native to the region, which has the ability to swim, feed on native plants, and tolerate high levels of salinity. 

For generations, the Fakirani Jats have tended to their Kharai camels. To them, herding is more than a livelihood; it’s a spiritual calling, a bond forged between man and beast. Economic pressures and changing times, however, have threatened this delicate equilibrium. 

With the loss of grazing lands to development, commercial agriculture, and urbanisation, the camel population in India has declined by 60% over two decades, a concerning trend outlined in the 2019 Livestock Census. Yet, in Gujarat’s Kutch district, the Fakirani Jats have clung to their traditional way of life despite economic hardships.

The camel milk market, once overlooked, now thrives. With the support of government funding and initiatives by dairy giants, camel milk has found its place on store shelves, even venturing into premium markets. 

The ripple effects of Sahjeevan’s endeavours are palpable. The resurgence of camel pastoralism has breathed new life into Kutch’s landscape, doubling the value of female camels and enticing young herders back to their ancestral profession.

As the world celebrates the International Year of Camelids in 2024, India’s success story stands as a testament to the enduring bond between humans and these resilient animals. Through collective efforts and steadfast dedication, Sahjeevan and the camel herders of Kutch have proven that tradition and progress can walk hand in hand, paving the way for a sustainable future.

Enter Sahjeevan, an organisation whose name embodies its mission: living together in harmony — Sah means together and Jeevan is life. Since 2009, the organisation has been on a mission to safeguard the Kharai camel and uplift the livelihoods of herding communities. Through collaborations with local herders and government initiatives, Sahjeevan has orchestrated a remarkable turnaround.

Their efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2015, the Kharai camel became the first post-independence camel breed to be officially registered. Sahjeevan’s advocacy also led to the recognition of camel milk as a nutritious food item, paving the way for its commercialisation.


Akshay Ramuhalli, Bijoy Venugopal, Bruce Lee Mani, Narayan Krishnaswamy, Prashant Vasudevan, Sananda Dasgupta, Seema Seth, Shraddha Gautam, Supriya Joshi, and Velu Shankar


Special thanks to the team at Sahjeevan in Kutch, and the Fakirani Jat community.

YouTube: jat fakirani Mo_9725562087

YouTube: Mustafa Ali Jat — Umer Aandhi Maarvi

More in Stories Of Change with Anuradha Nagaraj