The Three Kings in the Coto de Doñana. / sur

The Andalusian camels that carry the Magi

The Three Kings brought gifts to the Costa del Sol this week... on camels from Doñana

ALEKK M. SAANDERS

Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar represent Europe, Arabia, and Africa respectively, and that's why in order to present baby Jesus with three symbolic gifts they travelled from afar on horse, camel, and elephant. However, the Three Kings are often depicted travelling from the East, and only on camels.

On the Costa del Sol, the town of Alhaurín el Grande traditionally arranges a parade with these three favourite Christmas characters riding on camels. These camels don't come from the east though, but from the very west... of Andalucía.

Canary immigrants

Camels don't actually live in Europe; the Canary Islands, renowned for their camels, although belonging to Spain, are geographically part of the African continent.

Camels became part of the landscape of the Canaries centuries ago. Eventually, the camels were taken to Fuerteventura, and from there distributed throughout the rest of the islands, where they were used in agriculture

Camels became part of the landscape pf the Canaries centuries ago. Some sources claim that they were first introduced there by the French explorer Jean de Bethencourt, who later became the Canary Islands first king.

There is also a story about another Canary king, Diego Garcia de Herrera (born in Seville) and his incursions into Africa. His first expeditions or rather raids into the African coast were made in order to increase the islands' population of both people and cattle. It is thought in the 15th century, he brought, along with other animals, camels to Lanzarote. Eventually, the camels were taken to Fuerteventura, and from there distributed throughout the rest of the islands, where they were used in agriculture.

In the 20th century, the population of camels were allowed to dwindle as other means of transport were adopted. Like in the case with Mijas donkeys, nowadays Canary camels are involved only in tourism and humbly take holidaymakers on their hump in Camel Safaris.

Andalusian import

Incidentally, via the Canary Islands, camels were also introduced to the American continent, and, in the 19th century, even to Australia. Apparently, during that same period camels were delivered to Andalucía as well.

Via the Canary Islands, camels were also introduced to the American continent, and, in the 19th century, even to Australia. Apparently, during that same period camels were delivered to Andalucía as well

It could nevertheless be assumed that the first dromedaries came to Andalucía much earlier, with the Moors, in the 8th century. However, according to one version, a herd of feral dromedaries roamed Western Andalucía after escaping from farms of the Marquis of Molina and Villafranca - Pedro de Alcántara Álvarez de Toledo y Palafox. He liked camels and ordered them from the Canary Islands. It is believed they were delivered to his estate in the Coto de Doñana in 1829 and used as beasts of burden.

Wild camels were seen in Andalucía by legendary English naturalists, Abel Chapman and Walter J. Buck, who depicted them in their book Unexplored Spain, published in 1910

Descendants of those camels were seen in Andalucía by legendary English travellers, hunters, and above all, naturalists - Abel Chapman and Walter J. Buck. The friends used to live in Jerez de la Frontera and went on safaris in Africa and Europe in search of wildlife. They toured the Iberian peninsula, and it appears they especially liked trekking through hills and desolate marshes to observe and record the fauna in the Coto de Doñana. In their book Unexplored Spain, published in 1910, they describe the historic hunting grounds of Coto de Doñana and how they came across wild camels, to their great astonishment.

Carrying the Three Kings

A caravan of camels in the Coto de Doñana. / sur

Today in the Parque Nacional de Doñana you can still find an idyllic scene of meandering camels, although they are new inhabitants of the zone. The 20 dromedary camels belong to the Huelva family-run business 'Aires Africanos', a sort of tribute to the Saharan people and their way of life. This African camel farm was created by Miguel Ángel Maestre in the heart of Doñana, Matalascañas, in 2008. With help of his daughter, Belén, they help visitors learn more about the animals, their character, and their peculiarities.

In Doñana visitors walk among dunes on the back of camels, enjoying the fantastic landscape, where the cinnamon sand is framed by blue ocean and green pine-trees

“Our camels have 'another' peculiarity, or let's say, tradition - every January they head towards Malaga to take part in the Three Kings parade in Alhaurín el Grande. Children in this town have been already accustomed to the kings arriving on real camels carrying presents to them because it has been customary for the last ten years.

"Additionally, we participate in other towns around Andalucía making the Three Kings Day parades, so it is the busiest period for us. But, if on the Costa del Sol it's only the Three Kings who ride our camels, here, in the Doñana, everyone can have this opportunity - moving among dunes while sitting on the back of our camels and enjoying the fantastic landscape, where the cinnamon sand is framed by blue ocean and green pine-trees. For foreign visitors we offer guided tours in English as well,” Belén Maestre told SUR in English.

The Kings on camels in Alhaurín el Grande on 5 January. / ANDREA JIMÉNEZ