As dusk falls on the desert town of Pushkar, turbaned herdsmen huddle around fires and lament the downfall of one of the world's largest livestock fairs.

Like many traders, Jojawa trekked hundreds of kilometres to reach the decades-old cattle and camel fair, a journey that took him seven days from his village in the desert state of Rajasthan.

But the way things are going, he expects to go home with his pockets half-empty and some of the 25 camels that he hoped to sell still in tow.

"This year there are fewer buyers and fewer camels," says Jojawa who has been coming to the annual fair for 35 years. "If it goes on like this, in another 4 to 5 years, I'll be finished," adds Jojawa who uses one name.

Official figures for the five-day fair, which finishes this week and has long been a major tourist attraction, show the number of camels on sale has fallen to 4,739, a sharp drop from the 8,000 recorded in 2011, and a fraction of those from previous decades.

"I see more cameras than camels these days," says Ilse Koehler-Rollefson, a German academic turned activist with the Lokhit Pashu Palak Sansthan (LPPS), which works to support Rajasthan's traditional Raika pastoralists.

She says the Pushkar fair is the only time of year when camel breeders earn a cash income. Camels are normally sold for around 15,000 rupees, or $230 each and used on farms or as transport.

But as sales decline, breeding is becoming a less viable way to earn a living, and as a result she sees the traditional values that underpin the market "rapidly disintegrating".

Among the region's most prominent camel herders, the Raika believe the Hindu god Shiva handed them the responsibility to rear camels.

The semi-nomadic herdsmen consider their relationship with the animals as sacred and they are unique among camel herders worldwide for not slaughtering the camels they rear. But all that is changing.

"In the past 10 to 15 years, this taboo against the slaughter of camels has totally disintegrated and now we're at a stage here where in Pushkar most of the camels are actually sold for meat,"

Koehler-Rollefson says. Traditionally it was also taboo to sell female camels, considered the life-blood of a herd, but these days even they are sold for slaughter, she says.AFP