The World Cup, for peanuts? (Photo: Lou/Flickr)
Give an elephant a soccer ball, and you could discover the David Beckham of the pachyderm world. Train a cricket to fight, and you could produce a chirping, six-legged version of Mike Tyson.
Wait, what? Isn’t that how the old chesnuts go?
For a certain type of obsessed animal lover, crazy animal competitions are catnip to travel, to book a ticket and experience the wackiest, weirdest and flat-out fun furry frolics across the globe. While they don’t get the same sort of press as the World Cup or Olympics — or even the Westminster Dog Show — these events court cheering fans, colorful coaches, and yes, a little controversy.
Some animals have incredible skills, the kind that might otherwise net multimillion-dollar contracts if they were human. We’ve rounded up some of most unique animal competitions that made us laugh, raise an eyebrow, book a plane ticket, and ask the rhetorical question, “Seriously?”
Elephant Soccer — Chitwan, Nepal
A trippy dream turns reality come late December in Nepal: elephants playing soccer. It happens at the Chitwan Elephant Festival. Mahouts (elephant handlers) steer pachyderms specifically trained for the event up and down the soccer field, and the elephants use their trunks to navigate the ball. When goals are scored, spectators go wild. And when we say spectators, we mean humans and elephants.
Hang ten, doggy! (Photo: Nathan Rupert/Flickr)
Dog Surfing — Imperial Beach, California
Watch fearless pooches ride the waves during the Unleashed by PetCo Surf Dog Competition in San Diego County. Sporting adorable life vests and incredible balance, competing dogs can hang ten better than most humans. Scoring is based upon length of ride, size of wave and the dog’s ability to stay on the surfboard. Now in its ninth year, the competition takes place July 13.
May the best cricket win (Photo: Shannon Shue/Flickr)
Cricket Fighting — Beijing, China
The UFC of the cricket world is a 1,000-year-old tradition taken very seriously in China. Each autumn in early October, prize-winning crickets duke it out in Beijing at the National Cricket Fighting Championships (watch video, here). Prodded with sticks until they are agitated into fighting, the crickets that chirp the loudest are often wagered to be the fiercer fighter. With an average lifespan of 100 days, some fighter crickets are worth up to $1,500 each. Jimminy cricket! (Sorry, we couldn’t help it.)
Aren’t you a two-humped beauty? (Photo: Getty Images)
Camel Beauty Pageants — Abu Dhabi, UAE
No bathing suit competitions here. The camel beauty pageant is among the most popular events the Al Dhafrah Camel Festival in Abu Dhabi. Camels are judged on a combination of head, neck, whiskers, and hump. It’s likely the only beauty pageant where having a massive hump is a positive thing.
Head to head, horn to horn (Photo: Ellen Wallace/Flickr)
Cow Fighting — Aproz, Switzerland
Cows clash in the Swiss Alps each spring for the title of La Reine des Reines (The Queen of Queens). Herens cows, a breed known for its predisposition for combativeness, are pitted against one another in horned combat until one retreats in defeat. The last cow standing is declared the winner. Unlike bullfighting in Spain, blood is rarely shed — as cattle farmers don’t want harm to befall their “queens.”
Gives new meaning to bunny hop (Photo: Throwa_uk/Flickr)
Rabbit Show Jumping — Sweden
Move over, horses. Rabbit jumping is way (way) cuter. Known as Kaninhoppning in Sweden, rabbit show jumping competitions have since spread across Scandinavia and the U.K. These domesticated bunnies are trained to hop high, far, and fast. The world record for highest rabbit jump is more than three feet. Here’s hoping the American Hopping Association for Rabbits can bring more cuteness to American soil.
These birds can’t fly, but boy can they run (Photo: John Karwoski/Flickr)
Ostrich Races — Oudtshoorn, South Africa
Ostriches can run at speeds 40 miles per hour, which gives the average Olympic runner a run for his money. In Oudtshoorn, South Africa, local ‘jockeys’ mount these flightless birds for daily ostrich races to the cheers of spectators. Visitors are invited to give it a try, too. Just be sure to hold on tight. Closer to home, the Virginia City’s International Camel Races also hold ostrich (and zebra!) racing divisions in a historic mining town just outside Reno, Nevada.
Ribbit! (Photo: Uncle Bumpy/Flickr)
Frog Jumping — Angels Camp, California
Frogs fly high at the Calaveras County Fair & Jumping Frog Jubilee. Held each May, the event is open to all ages. Contestants can bring their own frog or borrow one. Win $5,000 by beating the world record leap set by Rosie the Ribeter in 1986: 21 feet, 5 ¾ inches.
Never get between a camel and his lady (Photo: Jose Alemañ Asensi/Flickr)
Camel Wrestling — Selcuk, Turkey
Thousands flock to the ancient stadium at Ephesus each January for the Camel Wrestling Championship. Festive parades with elaborately dressed camels are a prelude to the main event: the wrestling. Each match involves two bull (male) camels sparring as a female camel in heat awaits nearby. When one of the male camels retreats, screams or falls, the other is declared the winner — and gets the girl. Since winter is mating season for camels, the testosterone-fueled aggression during these matches is pretty fierce.
Erica Bray is a digital content strategist, writer, and yoga teacher based in Chicago. She is still trying to teach her parents’ dogs how to “sit.”