SAKABAL, Niger (AP) -- 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.
In markets all over Niger, hungry people are selling hungry animals for half their normal value, giving up on the milk and money of tomorrow so that their children can eat today. Their plight is a sign of how far the economy of the desert has broken down, leaving its people unable to feed themselves in drought after drought.
This is a community so tied to its animals that children play with miniature camels or cows cut from rock. It's in livestock that a man settles disputes, pays the dowry for his future bride and leaves an inheritance to his sons.

So to see a nomad sell his last camel is like watching someone sell their house and car, liquidate their 401(k) and empty their bank account all at once, just to buy groceries. [25 photos total]

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1
Livestock merchants leave Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. This is a region where it is in livestock that a man settles disputes, pays the dowry for his future bride and leaves inheritance to his sons. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
2
A Peul merchant relaxes on his stick by the door of a house while attending the livestock market in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A young herdsman walks through his cattle some 15 kms (10 miles) outside Bermo, Niger, 200kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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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, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg and Peul nomads walk in the food market in Bermo, Niger, 200kms (125 miles) North of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg nomads carrying their traditional swords and Peul herdsmen wearing their signature hats scan livestock in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg nomads arrive at the market to trade livestock in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A Tuareg nomad, carrying his traditional sword, rides his camel as he leaves the livestock market in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A cattle merchant gets ready to leave the livestock market in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A Nigerian taxman records the sale of a camel at the market in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg and Peul nomads gather at the market to trade livestock in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Peul nomads pack their camels at the end of the livestock market in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A Tuareg nomad carrying his traditional sword has a hook fit to his camel at the market in Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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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, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A Tuareg nomad carrying his traditional sword, left, walks past two Peul herdsmen trying to conclude a last deal at the end of the livestock market in Bermo, Niger, 200kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A herdsman's family heats up water for dinner in the fields near Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Tuesday, July 17, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Nomads stop for the night between Dakoro and Bermo, Niger, 200 kms (125 miles) north of Maradi on Monday, July 16, 2012. 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. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg women on their donkeys leave the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. 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. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg men negotiate the sale of camels at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Tuareg and Peul nomads laugh as they look for deals at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A buyer uses two cell phones as he is ready to conclude a deal on a camel at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Merchants and nomads shelter from the hot sun at the market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Sold goats are loaded on the rooftop of a truck in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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A Peul man walks with the severed heads of goat which will be grilled and eaten as a delicacy at the livestock market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #
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Carcasses from various livestock lay in a pile outside the market in the desert village of Sakabal, Niger, 220 kms (140 miles) north of Maradi on Sunday, July 22, 2012. (AP / Jerome Delay) #

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