By Al Donato

Forget survival of the fittest. Beauty is what matters in upcoming CBC documentary Catwalk: Tales From The Cat Show Circuit, which takes viewers behind the scenes of a cat show season. The claws come out for both pets and their owners as they battle it out for coveted first place titles.

Beauty pageants for pets are happening all over the world, with enthusiasts pitting their darlings in dramatic showdowns for discerning judges and adoring crowds. To outsiders, the concept can be perplexing.

As cat pageant regular Kim Langille puts it, “People can grasp the idea of a dog show. They can not even wrap their heads around a cat show.”

Bewildering as it may be, even the most unlikely members of the animal kingdom can get in on the pageant fun. From camel botox controversy to elephants wearing makeup, these are the oddest ones out there:

camels at festival in Saudia Arabia

Camel festival in Saudia Arabia Credit: Alabili Festival facebook page
Charming Camels

Camels have been beasts of burden for centuries. But in Saudi Arabia, they’re recognized as beasts of beauty.

Lasting for over a month and awarding almost $40 million in prize money, much is on the line at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival. Enough so that some owners are driven to cheat: a dozen camels were disqualified from the 2018 competition after a veterinarian was caught giving lip injections to make them poutier, the National reported.

“Untouched beauty” goes a long way in impressing judges. Long lashes, curly hair, and droopy ears are considered winning features. Extra points are awarded for temperament, with gentle camels crushing their ornery rivals.

winner at British Tarantula Society show

Prize-winning tarantulaCredit: British Tarantula Society
Tantalizing Tarantulas

If the sight of an itsy-bitsy spider sends you running, steer clear of the British Tarantula Society’s (BTS) exhibition contest. Thousands of furry tarantulas fill an arena in England for the annual event. Divided into nine categories, hopeful owners and their eight-legged companions can compete in categories like “Best New World Terrestrial” and “Best In Show.”

So, what makes an award-winning tarantula? BTS chairman Peter Kirk told the Smithsonian that judges look at leg-count (anything over and under eight is unacceptable), how healthy the spider is, and its physical beauty. Recently moulted spiders have the highest chance of winning since that’s when a silk spinner’s colours are at their glossiest and brightest.

Fabulous riches aren’t the big draw for contest hopefuls. "Winning doesn't make your spider more valuable," a former winner told National Geographic. "The value is in kudos, respect, and pleasure in showing off a certain species in its prime."

If you plan on attending, you’ll want to keep your hands to yourself. The exhibition bans handling tarantulas, as they’re far more fragile than they appear. Despite their fearsome looks, the soft silk spinners can be killed by the impact of a fall.

Chitwan Elephant festival

Chitwan Elephant festival Credit: IStock
Elephant Elegance

What does it take to become a beauty queen in Nepal? Makeup, painted nails, a gown, and a long grey trunk — at least if you’re entering the annual elephant beauty pageant.

Part of the Chitwan Elephant festival in Nepal, the pageant was initially organized to draw tourists and raise awareness about poaching. Both causes are national concerns: Nepal’s tourism fell by over 50 per cent following the 2015 earthquake, and the country takes pride in successful zero poaching policies.

The festival has since grown into a multi-day spectacle, drawing thousands of elephant lovers to watch the gentle grey giants bathe, play football, and paint. The beauty contest remains its biggest attraction, with the wrinkly mammals donning colourful fabrics and face paint for their chance at glory. Judges look at how well they’re dressed and their hygiene and overall health. The contest also includes an intelligence portion, where elephants prove their obedience by following their handler’s commands.

Should they prove themselves worthy of the crown, the lucky winner gets a delicious sugar cane treat, with handlers receiving a cash prize and a certificate declaring their massive monarch’s title.

Goat Glamour

If you’ve ever wanted to see a goat in a dress, head to the small Lithuanian town of Ramygala. Each year the bearded beauties are paraded down red carpets, decked in traditional clothing and bonnets.

They may be dressed to the nines, but a goat is still a goat; some stubborn competitors have been known to balk at their runway moment and have had to be carried.

The horned winners are crowned with tiaras, then feast on honey and cakes. Their owners are awarded books and coupons for a free haircut, Reuters reports.

surfing dog

Credit: iStock
Salty Sea Dogs

California beaches are home to dog surfing competitions, where you can see man’s best friend on the high tides. 

Not just any dog on a board can join. First, one’s four-legged friend must have the right temperament — breeds that hate water, like chihuahuas and pugs, won’t be participating.  Every pooch surfs differently, with some standing forwards or backwards on their board — Seeker notes that bulldogs tend to lie down.

As with all animal contests, appearance is everything. Judges look for how happy a dog looks on a board and award points based on how they think a dog is enjoying their wet and wild ride. The pageantry comes into play with outfits; wetsuits and funky glasses are a popular choice.

Prizes vary depending on the contest. At the 2017 World Dog Surfing Championships in Northern California, the top dog got a trophy, and their owner received a bottle of wine. Participation prizes keep the other canine competitors happy, with a swag bag of dog treats and toys.