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Reuven Yagil - Israel’s South African born camel man

Reuven Yagil and his beloved camels

Professor Reuven Yagil who passed away in Beer Sheva, Israel recently, was world renowned as one of Israel’s leading experts on camels, with particular emphasis on research into the nutrient, therapeutic and other beneficial qualities of camel milk.

Raymond Poplack, who was born in Pretoria, South Africa in the early 1930s, joined his father in the family cycle business after leaving school, although he soon decided to make Aliyah, which he did in 1955. Raymond married his childhood sweetheart Brenda, after which they adopted Hebrew names, becoming Reuven and Bracha Yagil. Following the completion of his compulsory military training with the Israeli Defence Forces, Reuven worked as an animal husbandry assistant for a kibbutz dairy, where he met the local veterinary surgeon. The vet obviously detected a special love for animals in Reuven and persuaded him to begin studies in veterinary surgery, which he completed at the University of Utrecht in Holland.

I met Reuven Yagil in November 2017 when he addressed a group of visiting expatriate South Africans during a tour of Ben Gurion University of the Negev that had been arranged by the Telfed Tiyul committee, of which I’m a founding member. Reuven’s cousin Rob Hyde, also a founding member of the tiyul committee, kindly arranged for the Prof to give us a lecture following our lunch in the university canteen. Rob also provided me with some information for the short biography at the beginning of this post.

Members of the Telfed tiyul group on the visit to Beer Sheva on 30 November 2017

Having listened to the talk on Reuven Yagil’s speciality, the camel, I came to the conclusion that camel milk must be the proverbial cure-all, if the various claims made by Prof Yagil, backed by similar opinions from several other experts, are to be taken at face value. I did some cursory research at the time and ended up recommending camel milk as a panacea for a variety of maladies to friends and relatives. I was fascinated to read about the common ailments that affect any number of us on a daily basis, which are said to respond favourably to treatment with camel milk or its derivatives. Camel milk has distinctive beneficent qualities such as being an antioxidant, antibacterial, antiviral, antifungal, anti-hepatitis and an anti-inflammatory medium, while it also slows the effects of aging on the skin.

Prior to listening to Prof Yagil, my knowledge of camels was limited to their historic importance as the “ships of the desert”, having a natural ability to go for days without water while transporting goods across the arid regions of the Middle East , as they have done for thousands of years. Camels, I learned, were far more than pack animals to their owners, with both the medicinal and high nutritional value of camel milk having been common knowledge among the ancient people of the region. I was fascinated to discover that some of the most common chronic ailments that it is claimed respond to treatment with camel milk include asthma, stomach ulcers, diabetes, various allergies, colitis and several types of immune disorders. The milk is also highly recommended as a substitute for conventional dairy milk for those who are lactose intolerant, or suffer from some of the many allergies related to the use of dairy products. The evidence based article on this link gives some detailed information on the results of scientific tests done on camel milk therapies

One of the important claims relates to the therapeutic qualities of camel milk in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) which affects between 1.5 and 2% of children globally. Studies on the prevalence of autism reveal that while 1 in 150 children born in 1992 suffered from autism, the occurrence increased to 1 in every 54 children born in 2016, with the number having shown a steady annual increase. During the 11th International Veterinary Congress in Berlin in 2018, Christina M. Adams, the mother of a child who had been diagnosed with ASD, presented a paper she had written in 2013 titled “Patient Report: Autism Spectrum Disorder Treated With Camel Milk.'' She related how her son’s autism diminished after being on camel milk treatment. She had placed her son on the therapy after reading the research paper “Etiology of autism and camel milk as therapy” published by Prof Yagil and Dr Yosef Shabo in 2005 . Adams has since become world renowned as an expert on the subject of camel milk therapies and published a book “A Real Boy: A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention and Recovery,” detailing her joy at having discovered the therapeutic effect of camel milk and how this discovery changed her son’s life. You can read about her experiences on this link.

My next eye opener was the discovery that extensive research has been done into the use of camel milk in the manufacture of cosmeceuticals, which are defined as cosmetic products reputed to have medicinal benefits. While cosmeceutical products are generally marketed as cosmetics, they contain ingredients which are said to contain biologically effective elements. Such claims were made in a research paper by Elvira Yurystyn, Ami Etzion, Clara van Creveld and Reuven Yagil, published in the Journal of Medicine and Medical Research Vol. 2(1): 8-12, January 2014. Each one of the accredited authors is an acknowledged expert on camels and the beneficial properties of camel milk. One of the authors, Ami Etzion is now the CEO of a cosmetics company, Shemen Laminha, which uses camel milk in some of its products. You can read about the company and how it uses camel milk on this link

I started this article with a few biographical details about Professor Reuven Yagil, and then wrote about his scientific life, so it's quite fitting that I end with a few more details about Reuven Yagil, the man. Having qualified in the Netherlands as a veterinary surgeon, Reuven and Bracha moved to Beer Sheva where he opened a veterinary practice. This is where he first came into contact with camels, as many of the Bedouin living in the region owned camels and needed veterinary services from time to time. In an obituary for Reuven written by Zohar Elia Turiel, she starts off by saying “Prof. Reuven Yagil won international recognition for his research on camel milk, but in Beer-Sheva Israel, he is remembered mainly for his free treatment of the neighborhood dogs.”. This comment speaks of a man who cared more about the wellbeing of his fellow man and of animals than he did about fame, fortune or the accompanying accolades.

Yagil travelled to diverse countries on all 5 continents, spreading the word about the therapeutic and nutritive qualities of camel milk, especially among the poorer nations. He encouraged and assisted with the establishment of camel ranches in far flung countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia in Africa, Mongolia and Kazakhstan in northern Asia as well the Indian sub-continent in southern Asia. He also visited several South American countries where he was able to assist and advise in the beneficial uses of llamas and alpacas, the local camel species. He is also a respected scientific figure in Australia where he acted as an advisor in the establishment of a camel ranch for Camel Life Australia. Read on this link Reuven was also invited to visit a number of Arab countries which do not have ties with Israel, where he was able to assist in the establishment of camel ranching protocols. He had the firm belief that the nutritious and therapeutic properties of camel milk could be used to alleviate hunger and disease in many of the poorer and less developed countries.

Reuven Yagil as an international adviser on camel husbandry

Reuven Yagil’s obituary ends as follows “In recent years he was diagnosed with PMR (Polymyalgia rheumatica), an inflammatory disorder and suffered a great deal of pain. His wife, Bracha, looked after him and cared for him until the day he died. He left behind three children – Illana (60), Tal (59), and Oren (49) – five grandchildren, and four great grandchildren, scores of papers and articles, and countless fans all over the world who will continue to enjoy his discoveries and will never forget him."

To these words I would add that the legacy he left behind will be of great benefit to mankind far into the future. His great motivation and abiding passion was to end hunger and disease among the poorer nations. Let me end with this quote from Reuven Yagil, “The camel was the first animal to be domesticated for its milk, much earlier than the cow,” he wrote, “and it can provide an enormous amount of milk, even during droughts. And since there are camels in many places that are suffering from drought, why import food when there is a local solution?”

With thanks to Zohar Elia Turiel and Rob Hyde for content and photos.

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