On Shaving Camels

Ask and ye shall receive Cynthia Spencer...the camel loading story.


It would take me pages to explain the backstory of how I ended up loading a grumpy, giant camel into a small stock trailer with waning daylight and incompetent help.  To do so, I would need to explain how I right out of college I ended up managing the horse farm/exotic animal petting zoo/circus (no really, a circus) of a loud Italian woman in her 60s who made her million dollar fortune with the first male strip clubs (think Chippendales) in the US.  The year I spent working at that farm would encompass a book all on its own.  But I digress...the camel.


On this strange farm was a large, adult male dromedary (one hump) camel named Nappy.  Nappy was unhappy.  Not only was he the only camel on the farm, he was forced to live in a smallish pen in the weird petting zoo situated in the middle of  the farm and be ogled by small children every day.  I didn't blame Nappy for sleeping 23/24 hours a day, I mostly felt sorry for him.  And so it was I started lobbying for Nappy's freedom.


Upon taking over management of the farm, where I was ostensibly there to oversee the horse population but got sucked into managing the exotic animals as well, I did my best to improve Nappy's life.  Each day I walked him from his small pen in the zoo portion to one of the farm's large pastures and let him run free--the sight of a camel attempting to joyfully frolic will make you laugh out loud.  Their joy is interspersed with episodes wherein you are sure they will fall flat on their faces for camels are not graceful creatures.


The next order of business was giving Nappy a haircut.  Camels have a wool-like fur that doesn't always shed in an ideal way--it gets clumpy and matted rather easily and since Nappy spent so much time lying down due being depressed, his spring shedding hair was seriously gross.  And so I decided to bodyclip him.


What many do not know about camels is that, per capita, they kill more humans than any other domesticated species (which ends not being that many people because they aren't that many domesticated camels).  This isn't necessarily because they are "meaner" than other animals but because of their huge size and variety of weapons--ie. biting (one account has  an angry male camel biting its owner's head clean off), kicking with all 4 feet and, scariest to me, the fall on and smother your victim method.


As I said, Nappy was already an unhappy camel--alone and understimulated, he had a glass half-empty view of the world.  But I had been steadily making friends with him and thought we could get through the bodyclipping without major incident.  After all, he would feel SO GOOD afterward.  


Nappy had other ideas.


It went well at first--buzz, buzz and giant chunks of matted hair fell off.  But then he got bored. When fidgeting did not get my attention, he started moan-growling (camel keepers know what I mean) and turning to bite.   He knew what "no" meant and soon stopped that.  He wasn't apt to kick, possibly because he was too clumsy on his feet as it was, and so his next move was the classic camel "collapse and smoosh" method of destruction.


Now, if you have never stood next to an 8 foot tall, 2000 pound animal and had it suddenly try to fall on top of you, you don't know real panic. To make matters worse, I had a clipper and cord so backing up fast wasn't the easiest.  Needless to say, I got the heck out of there and reconsidered...and Nappy got put in proper stocks for his next beauty treatment.


And so we very obviously had an unhappy and now openly dangerous animal on the property.  I managed to convince the farm owner that Nappy would be happy on a farm with other camels (and less people).  He usually spent the winter on a farm that had other camels and so it was decided he would go to live there permanently. But first we had to get him there...


Originally, the camel farm folks were going to help load and take him back but when that didn't work out and we needed Nappy to get on the road, the task fell to me.  And since Nappy's reputation as a scary grump was intact with other farm personnel, I didn't have any volunteers to lead him on the trailer.


As noted above, camels are huge.  Normal livestock or horse equipment is not made for camels nor they for it, but that was what we had to work with.  Nappy had had basic training as a baby to lead and cush (kneel down), but at his mature size, if he decided to say no, there wasn't much we could do about it.


Nappy led to the trailer ok, was happy to eat a bucket of sweet feed with his head inside of it, was even willing to explore the interior for as long as his neck would let him but he was going no further.  He groaned and stood there defiantly, giving us a big fat NO.


I didn't blame him.  The biggest problem was the fact that while his body and hump would fit in the trailer, he needed to keep his head lowered to fit properly.  But when an animal is getting nervous and on high alert, their head goes up and that is exactly what he was doing.  And forcing him wasn't an option because he had 101 ways he could kill me. I needed a plan B.


I knew from experience that Nappy didn't see the best (or just didn't like) in low light.  He always liked to stand where there was the most light in the zoo at night. And on the evenings I brought him back from the pasture to his pen, he had attempted to drag me into the brightly lit barn on multiple occasions.  So I had an idea that if we let it get darkish outside and then lit up the trailer, he might be attracted to go inside.  So we hung out and waited.  He grazed, I gazed and the sun began to set.


The trailer was now a beacon of light in darkening farmyard.  I had his favorite grain, I had sweet words of beckoning and slowly, slowly he decided the trailer might be the place to be.  One foot, two feet--eat, eat, eat.  Back foot--eat, pet, relax.  Second back foot--eat, pet, relax.  But his butt still stuck out and the trailer door could not be shut.  I didn't dare try to slam him in because I knew we couldn't hold that door back from his one-ton mass if he tried to back out.  As much as I didn't want to spend any more time in a small trailer with a giant camel that had once tried to kill me, I needed to keep feeding, coaxing and petting until his whole self was inside and I could pop out through the escape door.


Finally, after nearly an hour of sweet-talking and a full bucket of grain, he was in.  The back door was swiftly latched and in the moment where he looked back to see what the clang was all about, I jumped out the front door.  He was in!  And nobody got squashed!


And so now you see why I was so flabbergasted that I could not get the crazy red pig on a trailer---I got a giant, cranky camel on board without incident but loading that damnable pig nearly killed me.  Good riddance red pig, good riddance.



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