PETA slams Google for using camel to capture desert photos

Posted at 11:30 AM, Oct 09, 2014

One of the world's leading animal rights activists is upset with Google Inc. after a recent image-collection project involving a camel.

To capture photographs for a Google Maps Street View of the Liwa Desert in the United Arab Emirates, Google strapped its camera onto the hump of a camel as it trekked across the sand.

“Now with Google Maps, you can see for yourself and start your journey across the sands of the special desert and Liwa Oasis,” an English translation of the Google Arabia Blog states. “You will find sand dunes that rise up to 25 to 40 meters. These hills were home to early settlers in the region during the late Stone Age.”

The camera used to capture the images is called a Trekker, designed by Google’s Street View team to document “places no car, trike, trolley or snowmobile can access,” according to its website. This marked the first time the company used an animal to capture Street View images, according to a Google spokeswoman who spoke to “The National.”

Not everyone was excited about the tech giant's methods for capturing its desert images.

"Google has no business using camels to 'cutesy up' its data-collection imagery," said Ingrid E. Newkirk, president of People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals (PETA). "Anyone who has read about or visited that area knows that camels have a hard lot in life."

For the majority of its Street View projects, Google has used vehicles adorned with a camera. On Thursday, Newkirk argued this is what the company should have done for its Liwa Desert project.

"These days, jeeps are in common use in the desert, as are light planes and even dune buggies, and satellite images could also easily have been taken instead," she said. "(Google) should leave camels out of its activites altogether."

Google Maps' Liwa Desert project was carried out with the help of a guide who took the camel — a 10-year-old named Raffia — out as early as 6 a.m. to photograph the desert in optimal weather conditions.

Clint Davis is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @MrClintDavis.