Recently as I was worrying about gun control, Iran, North Korea and why on earth the Westminster Kennel Club Show included a Doberman with the name of “Fifi,” I read an even more chilling story in the local paper: A few miles away from me on semi-rural Bailey Road, a red Honda minivan collided with a camel.
Apparently at 3:00 p.m. a dromedary (one-hump) camel named Rudy snuck out of his wire-fenced pasture where he was supposedly living with another camel named Phil. The snucking occurred when Rudy discovered a hole in the fence, let himself out and began grazing on the shoulder of the road. He succeeded in stopping traffic in both directions. Some motorists left their vehicles to coax Rudy back to his pen by helpfully calling out “C’mere, Bob!” and “Come, Bailey!” which they insisted was the camel’s correct name.
The California Highway Patrol arrived and returned Rudy to his slammer.
However, around 7:00 p.m. Rudy escaped again. As he sauntered along the road, he was struck by the red Honda minivan that took off with a panicky driver desperately wondering if he’d been hallucinating or struck an unbelievably ugly horse. Meanwhile, Rudy stood up, began to walk, then ran around the road. A group of neighboring cowboys gathered and for two hours tried to persuade Rudy—who wasn’t going to fall for this recapture trick again—- to climb into a trailer-truck. By the time the lengthy ordeal ended, the men had tried lassos and luring the camel with traditional Arabic camel calls (“Come on, dude”) and showing Rudy a poster of Peter O’Toole.
The next day University of California Davis veterinarians announced the alarming medical findings: (1) Rudy was really “Phil.” (2) The real Rudy had been shipped off last year to Missouri for impersonating Phil. (3) There are no known camels in the area named “Bob” or “Bailey.” (4) Ulysses Grant is buried in Grant’s Tomb.
Other than that, Phil the camel was in good shape.
But we, the public, are not. World-wide there are 14 million camels, the same number as there are guns in Brazil. The same number as Brittany Spears’ debut album, “Baby One More Time.” These coincidences can’t be ignored. Camels are expected to double in ten years if they don’t skip dessert.
That they are a deadly threat has been lost in the rhetoric of global warming even though in Saudi Arabia alone, an estimated fifty percent of the country’s gross national product is based on camel flatulence (aka methane gas). Because of cargo restrictions, the Saudis cannot import the estimated 60 trillion Glade “Country Garden” floral sprays to address the problem.
Even Australians are concerned with the epidemic of camels: The population of their feral camels is 750,000. One Australian company has proposed shooting the camels or alternatively, sending them to an abattoir, which, because this is a French word, should mean “a body spa,” but is in fact a “slaughterhouse.”
As it is, uninsured camels, here and abroad, are increasingly responsible for camel-vehicle collisions (CVCs). At least the Saudis, because of the soaring rates of camel-vehicle collisions, are considering camel-crossing signs, fitting camels with reflectors, and better fencing, where camels have shown the dexterity to use swords.
In the United Arab Emirates’ Journal of Emergency Medicine, an illustration graphically depicts a car in Saudi Arabia striking a camel, the camel falling on top of the car’s windshield and roof, and causing cervical and fatal head injuries to the occupant. The Saudi AAA had been called but took 15 hours to arrive at the scene, with an additional hour for the tow truck driver to explain to the deceased motorist that his AAA membership expired two weeks earlier.
In America, the Pentagon maintains that camels are few in number and pose no homeland threat. But most camels in this country are in hiding, living illegally and fighting to be included in immigration negotiations so they have a path to citizenship.
Why are camels even in this country? The U.S. Army did have a U.S. Camel Corps in California in the 19th century, but it ended with the outbreak of the Civil War. Most veteran camels were left to wander in the desert where, because of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or too much sun, they formed paramilitary packs. The remainder who spurned the desert were confiscated for circuses or companies offering rides to children and adults. A few lucky camels spent decades appearing in Hollywood biblical films until this genre was out of favor, replaced by westerns, war movies and remakes of famous films, like “Birth of a Nation” starring Mel Gibson.
Ultimately, there was only one remaining role for camels with SAG cards: appearing in live Nativity scenes or plays around Christmas time. Although the Gospels don’t mention sheep, donkeys and camels being present at the birth of Jesus, churches traditionally have included them in Nativity scenes. For unemployed camels, “Living” Nativity Scenes provide the perfect part-time job and as well as “cover” for the benign-looking but malevolent camels.
Case in point: In 2010 at the First Baptist Church in West Palm Beach, Florida, church-goers joyously welcomed the Living Nativity Scene with its live donkey and sheep. Finally, a 1,000 pound camel appeared, led on a leash by an animal handler. As “We Three Kings” blared from speakers (mostly guest speakers), the wily camel fell sideways into the crowd, intending to wipe out two entire pews of churchgoers.
While we as Americans have every reason to fear suicidal or terrorist camels, unlike in other countries we can rehabilitate them. Considering the camel’s basic nature—inquisitive, intelligent and affectionate—-they can be deprogrammed to rid them of hostility, long-time grudges and their proclivity to do evil. Even given their previous fiendish background, the majority of camels can, with encouragement and some training, be effectively put to work as accountants.