I am sitting atop a camel, riding in a surprisingly smooth gliding motion, gazing towards the horizon, where I see six camels scattered across my field of vision. The sun is beaming down, it is verging on hot, and I peer into the distance to see… what is most decidedly not the Gobi Desert. No, I am in Whatcom County, looking out towards white-capped Mt. Baker, and being regaled on the history, habits and fine points of camels, dromedaries and other ungulates.
I am at Camel Safari, started and run by Guy Seeklus: a man with a mission, boundless enthusiasm and 25 or so camels. When his young daughter wanted an alpaca, he researched them, and on the way to that decision, found himself fascinated with the Bactrian camel. This led to a farm in Whatcom County filled with the delightful creatures, a tiny room filled with vintage camel saddles from all over the world, and one of the most unusual attractions in the area.
Camels get a bad rap: lots of stories feature their bad temper, spitting and kicking. However, at Camel Safari, I saw nothing of the like. However, as I walked around the (wonderfully clean and tidy) barns, I did clearly hear Chewbacca roar. Turns out that a camel was one of the many animal sounds amalgamated as parts of Chewbacca’s “speech.” In fact, one of the denizens of the farm is named after that famous Wookie.
Native to the steppes of Central Asia, the Bactrian is classified as critically endangered, with an estimated population of less than a thousand truly wild remaining. Far more exist as domesticated animals.
Here are some of the fun facts I learned about camels:
Having trouble remembering which animal (dromedary or camel) has one hump or two? Turn the initial letter on its side: Dromedaries have one; Bactrian camels have two.
Camels do not store water specifically in their humps. The humps are filled with fat, so a well-nourished camel will have plump, erect humps. As resources decline, the camel will lose weight and girth all over, and the humps will fall over to the side.
A wild Bactrian camel can live up to 50 years. In captivity, they typically live 20-40 years.
Their long eyelashes and sealable nostrils help keep out sand and dust from the sandstorms in their native areas.
When truly thirsty, they can drink up to 15 gallons in a go, and fast!
While they are primarily herbivorous, they can eat virtually anything, including rope and very thorny items. (Their mouths are lined with special protection against such things, so no harm comes to them if they eat, say, Himalayan blackberries or the like. I was tempted to ask if I could rent some to clear my property.)
They love, love, love carrots, and will nibble them ever-so-gently from your hand.
They have a bifurcated (split) upper lip which feels like soft velvet when they do so.
They shed in the most bizarre pattern you’ve ever seen, with entire panels of fur peeling off at once. This again resembles something out of a Star Wars film. In fact, I left Camel Safari quite convinced George Lucas had spent some quality time with camels before he wrote his opus.
Due to their resource-poor natural environments, camels are all about saving energy and effort. They have what resemble hard calluses on each of their legs as well as another one under their belly, where each area typically rests on the ground. This protects them and makes it comfy in a variety of climates, particularly snow, where they prevent the body mass from getting too cold. Whatever the weather extreme, they can sit in one place comfortably and nibble on whatever’s within reach – whether grass, or snow.
Riding a camel is a delightful surprise. Camel Safari provides an easy stair arrangement to make getting on and off very simple. Their gait is like a horse, if a horse sailed more smoothly across the land. It’s almost a glide, and it is both relaxing and comfortable. Call 800-836-4036 or visit them at www.CamelSafari.com to find out more about how you can meet these inquisitive, friendly creatures and ride a camel without having to fly to Egypt!