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Sale of Niger nomad's last camel is sign of hunger

Jerome Delay / AP

Helpers prepare just-purchased camels for their new owners to take with them at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger. Eighty percent of Niger's people and 100 percent of the landlocked nation's rural population depend on livestock, including camel, cows, sheep and goats, for some part of their income. For generations, nomads have lived in a precarious equilibrium with the sky above them. When the first rains come, they head north toward the Sahara desert, where the grass is said to be saltier, packed with minerals. They time their movements according to the clouds, waiting for the second major downpour, before making a U-turn to head back to the greener south. If they miscalculate, they can end up stranded. As the grass turns yellow, their animals become too weak to walk.

Jerome Delay / AP

A Tuareg man smiles as his camel rises from lying down at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger.

In a part of the world where the worth of a man is measured by his animals, Tuareg nomad Soumaila Wantala has come to this market to do the unthinkable: Sell his last camel.

He crouches in the shade of a thorn tree as traders haggle over the 4-year-old male animal, Yedi. When the sale is complete, Yedi rears his enormous neck and lets out a cry, like the deep, subterranean call of a whale. It takes three men to drag the camel out of the arena, as if he understands the fate that has just befallen his master.

-- Reported by the Associated Press

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Jerome Delay / AP

Herdsmen gather at the livestock market.

Jerome Delay / AP

Tuareg nomads arrive at the market to trade livestock in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A Tuareg nomad carrying his traditional sword has a hook fit to his camel at the market in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A Peul merchant relaxes on his stick by the door of a house while attending the livestock market in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

Men walk through the grain market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

Tuareg nomads carrying their traditional swords and good luck amulets around their neck, shop for fabric and other goods while attending the livestock market in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A Nigerian taxman records the sale of a camel at the market in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A rare vehicle carries villagers back to Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A Tuareg nomad, carrying his traditional sword, walks past a handler pulling just-purchased sheep to their new owner at the livestock market in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

Sold goats are loaded on the rooftop of a truck in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A herdsman's family heats up water for dinner in the fields near Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A young herdsman walks through his cattle outside Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

Birds fly over grazing cows in the green sandy plains near Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

Young herdsmen show their henna stained hands, sign of a recent wedding celebration, as they gather at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

A Tuareg nomad, carrying his traditional sword, rides his camel as he leaves the livestock market in Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

Livestock merchants leave Bermo, Niger.

Jerome Delay / AP

In this picture taken Monday, July 16, 2012, nomads stop for the night between Dakoro and Bermo, Niger.