June 26, 2011

Sydney—A One-Ton Camel—Visits Ligonier (PA)



During the Community Day open houses in Ligonier my husband Monte, our friend Lois, and I visited the Antiochian Village Heritage Museum. Outside, they had a camel—a real live camel—a living, breathing creature I wouldn’t expect to see in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

     Sidney, according to his handler Dave Baker, resides at the Living Treasures “Wild” Animal Park outside the city of New Castle, Pennsylvania, where visitors are encouraged to interact with him.

     One thing for certain—Sidney is fortunate not to live in Australia these days, where there is a great concern about green-ignorant camels who don’t calculate the buildup of their carbon footsteps. These camels are non-native beasts, who belch methane gas. As a result, farmers and investors will be able to collect carbon credits by eliminating wild camels, which are, after all, methane-emitting creatures who relish crop-munching.*

     Hopefully, this great strategy will lessen the effects of global warming in today’s world. Who needs all these camels, especially wild ones?


     Sidney has lived fourteen of an expected life span of forty years of age. He weighs two thousand pounds—a ton of beast. His diet consists of twenty-five pounds of hay and thirty pounds of grain—oats and ground corn—and is fed carrots during the day. If he were in his homeland, perhaps Australia, he would be eating grass, weeds, and twigs.

     This beast can go up to three months without water.

     Sidney, like all camels, can kick in any direction. He has natural knee pads. He sheds in the summer—but the big bare spots on his body were rubbed off by Sidney’s own actions.

     He is very tame, posing for pictures and accepting being surrounded by persons of all ages. We were able to pet him, talk to him, and enjoy meeting him without fear. He has never spit at anyone, so we weren’t at risk of being victimized by that particular camel behavior.

     He was also a flirt, kissing gals and guys on request—or perhaps, for a carrot. It was Monte’s birthday, so I asked if he could get a camel kiss. Monte’s reaction:

A birthday kiss from Sydney


     Had Sidney lived in the late 1840s he might have been sent to the western frontier of the United States to participate in an experiment to determine if camels could be used to solve the region’s transportation problems. The United States was experiencing territorial expansion then, before it annexed Texas, New Mexico and California, which was creating serious difficulties in transportation there. Following the Mexican war, the problems were worse: immense territories were added, more than doubling the length of the boundaries. This left both the unsettled, mountainous region and the dry, grassless, waterless, areas a challenge for pack animals and cavalry horses. The eastern and western frontiers of the Pacific settlements needed to be guarded. A formidable danger to frontier settlements, to small army garrisons and camps…lay in the attacks of the hostile Indians of this region, who, on their swift ponies, could make sudden raids and escape capture by the foot soldiers of the small bodies of cavalry.**

     Several army officers, and particularly Jefferson Davis, believed that the camel could travel faster than a horse and carry heavier loads over rougher ground. Other people’s had demonstrated that the camel—a beast of burden not needing water for days at a time, able to live on the poorest forage, and able to endure the extremes of heat and cold of the far west—was an important agent of transportation.

     The proposal to substitute camels for mules, horses and oxen in transporting supplies for the army was first made by Major George Hampton Crossman…who was Zachary Taylor’s quartermaster in the Seminole war…He made a study of the subject, and twenty years later was considered one of the authorities concerning camels.**

     In March 1851, Senator Jefferson Davis studied the different camel breeds, their habitat, their care, and their adaptability to the arid plains of Texas, New Mexico and California, after which there was a formal recommendation to the War Department for camels be imported for experimental purpose. Davis proposed to insert in the army appropriation bill an amendment providing the sum of $30,000 for the purchase of fifty camels, the hire of ten Arabs, and other expenses.

     In a speech, he reviewed the camel’s history as a servant of man, which would be valuable not only because of their burden-bearing capacity and their ability to live long without water and to eat scraggy bushes, but because of their greater speed.   The dromedaries (swift camels) could mount cavalry and carry small cannon.

     The proposal was deemed extravagant and/or ludicrous, and the appropriation was not made. After a year, Senators Evans (Maine) and Shields (Ohio) supported a measure to appropriate $20,000 for camels—which failed when the House passed the camel bill, but the Senate didn’t.


      While camel rides weren’t offered at Antiochian Village, they are available at Living Treasures Animal Park.


*Sunday Pops, Greensburg Tribune-Review, June 12, 2011, pp D2




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