Robot jockeys lined up for the first time at a major camel racing festival in northeastern Egypt, where child riders are to be phased out.
Child jockeys have already been banned in several Gulf countries due to the risk of injury and exploitation.
Organisers said they fielded around 20 robots — child-sized devices with a whipping arm that can be triggered at a distance — alongside dozens of real children as part of a trial run.
Eid Hamdan Hassan, the head of the Egyptian Camel Federation, which organised the festival in the Srabioum desert of Ismailia, says that they are planning to stop the use of human jockeys within a year, "except for some adults for the sake of tradition".
Several Gulf countries have banned child jockeys from the traditional Bedouin sport in recent years after rights groups said the youngsters were often injured and some had been abducted or sold by their families.
Most of the robot jockeys took part in robot-only races at last week's event. In the two when they challenged the young riders, the robots lost.
Young jockeys there — most of them aged 6-13 — defended the tradition and their participation.
Sayed Mohamed, 11, said children were better than robots at steering. "The camel might lean sideways. We are better at riding leaning camels, so we can straighten its route."
Around 150 camels competed in eight categories over distances from 5 to 15 km, cheered on by more than 1,000 spectators.
Local tribes prepare their best camels with a special diet of beans, barley, date paste and milk, with victory raising a camel's value.
Camel owner Mohamed Mostafa said: "When you win, you get a reward, which is that you get to sell the camel for a high price. You can sell it for up to EGP 300,000. But some prefer not to sell – they would keep it for [its] reputation."