Black-eyed Nirvana and Mr. Isa, two male camels from the western Aydin province of Turkey wearing colorful saddles, circled the grounds with their owners and then wrestled fiercely as thousands cheered.
They were competing as part of the Efes Selcuk Camel Wrestling Festival, the biggest and most prestigious festival of its kind, which celebrated its 40th run Sunday. It features 80 pairs or 160 camels.
How does camel wrestling work?
The large wrestling grounds are a few miles away from Ephesus, the site of ancient Greek ruins.
Smaller festivals are held across Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean provinces.
The games take place during the camels’ mating season - because the males are more aggressive during this time, especially when they are barred from mating. They are primed to fight.
The scoring system is complicated for outsiders but a camel who gets its opponent to scream, flee, fall, or is able to push its embroidered saddle to the ground, wins.
A popular spectator sport
The day before, camels were paraded in a beauty pageant, decked out with colorful beaded muzzles, fabrics, pompoms, bells and Turkish flags.
A jury judged them as they strutted through the town.
The controversy surrounding camel wrestling
The Federation for Camel Culture and Camel Wrestling says there is no exact date for when the tradition began in Anatolia but it is thought to date back to the 19th century among competing nomadic groups.
Animals rights groups say camel wrestling should be banned and amounts to abuse.
Even though Turkey’s law for the protection of animals bans animal fights and an amendment last summer introduced financial punishments and prison sentences, it allows traditional folkloric shows without violence.
The Istanbul Bar Association criticised the law for not banning camel wrestling, saying they are violent and have no folkloric roots.
Watch the video above to see the camel wrestling