7 Unexpected Animal Beauty Pageants
By Bess Lovejoy
Most people have heard of the pampered pooches who compete at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, held every year at NYC’s Madison Square Garden. It may be more of a surprise to learn that there's a version of Westminster for tarantulas, or that cows, goats, elephants, and other furry (or feathered) friends compete in beauty pageants around the world. (So far, of course, Westminster is the only event with its own mockumentary.) These competitions range from the bitterly contested to the relatively lighthearted, but they all feature animals that we don’t usually expect to see on a judging platform.
1. British Tarantula Society Annual Competition
Jason Scrags, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Like Westminster, the British Tarantula Society's annual contest features both individual categories—such as "Best Asian Arboreal" and "Best Brachypelma"—as well an overall Best in Show crown. This year, top honors went to a Phormictopus sp. "Green," an 8-inch creepy-crawly with a metallic green tint. The British Tarantula Society was founded 30 years ago by one Ann Webb (yes, really), and has been charming arachnophiles ever since. The first annual contest was held in Webb's garage, while this year's event packed about 2000 people into a Coventry stadium.
2. World’s Falcons Beauty Contest
Stefan Groen, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Falconry is a big deal in the United Arab Emirates, where the bird is a national symbol featured on official crests and an inspiration for traditional music, dance, food, and Instagram-fueled rap battles. The Emirates Falconers’ Club runs the World’s Falcons Beauty Contest, which judges the “best looking and largest falcons in the world” according to their size, weight, the color and consistency of their feathers, and other characteristics. The birds are assessed in four categories, including "best gyr-peregrine hybrid bred in captivity" and "best pure gyr" (gyr and peregrines are species of falcons), while owners are judged in “The Best Stand of Falconry and Its Equipment in the Exhibition.”
3. Miss Milk Cow Pageant
Judges at the annual Miss Milk Cow pageant in Vietnam are looking for long legs and a shapely torso, but the real asset on trial is the ability to produce lots and lots of milk. The Miss Milk Cow contest is held annually in Moc Chau, a region of Vietnam known for its dairy pastures, and the contest’s stated purpose is to promote dairy farming. The most recent Miss Milk Cow, who won her title in October 2014, was a comely four-year-old capable of producing 42 kg of milk (about 92.5 pounds) per day—double the average volume.
4. Elephant Beauty Contest at the Chitwan Elephant Festival
Marc, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND 2.0
The Chitwan Elephant Festival in southern Nepal features elephant races, elephant calf football, and an elephant picnic, plus ox- and horse-cart races. But for some, the highlight is undoubtedly the elephant beauty pageant, when freshly scrubbed and painted pachyderms appear resplendent in gowns and nail polish before a group of judges. Contestants are scored on cleanliness and intelligence, among other attributes. Five elephants competed in the most recent event, held in December 2014, although the pageant's final outcome, disappointingly, seems to have gone unreported in the English-language press.
5. Camel Beauty Pageant at the Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival
Chuck Stensrud, Flickr // CC BY NC-ND 2.0
Camel wrestling goes back thousands of years in Turkey, although the Selcuk Efes Camel Wrestling Festival’s current incarnation was launched by the nation’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism in 1982. Spectators who might not be up for the brief-but-violent wrestling matches between spitting Tulu camels (watch out for the flying saliva and urine!) can instead take in the animals adorned with beads, sequins, pom poms, and tassels competing for the title of best-dressed in the beauty pageant.
6. National Pigeon Show
Who hasn't occasionally admired the metallic plumage of pigeons at the park? The birds at the National Pigeon Association's Grand National Pigeon Show take it to the next level, with multi-colored crimped and curled plumage that would put even Kate Middleton's tresses to shame. This year's contest, held in Los Angeles, saw 7800 pigeons in over 300 breeds and from 21 countries compete in best-of-breed and best-in-show categories. (Even noted pigeon enthusiast Mike Tyson attended.) This year's overall champion was a snowy Oriental Frill.
7. Goat Beauty Contests
You might not think of goats as being in the same league as Miss America, but goat beauty pageants are definitely a thing. In Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, pedigree Najdi goats—known for their distinctive noses and silky manes—have competed to win prizes, while in Jordan, Al Shami goats (also known for their great noses) have duked it out. Both breeds can fetch tens of thousands of dollars per animal, and the contests seem mostly geared to establishing bragging rights for breeders.
Lithuania, however, has kept things a little more homegrown with a goat beauty pageant in 2010 meant to celebrate the 640th anniversary of the village of Ramygala. (A fetching cream-colored goat named Grazyolyte took home the crown.) The idea behind such contests isn’t new, by the way—in the mid-1930s, there were regular goat beauty pageants in Central Park, sponsored by a beer company seeking the mascot for their annual advertising poster. The 1934 winner, Pretzels, was described by The New York Times as possessing “magnificent swirling horns, a long, sagacious beard and a relatively sweet disposition.”