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Hi Yo Silver

By Bob & Lynn Difley

“You wouldn’t get me up on that ugly thing, no way, pardner! I’m a cowboy. We ride horses, not those dad-blasted critters,” Tex spat out his epithets along with a stream of tobacco juice as he glared at the critter, which in turn pa-tooied right back at him.

“Oh, Yuk!” he snarled. “I’m gettin’ outta here. That thing just aint human.” He turned on the narrow heels of his silver-toed boots and strode away, conjuring the image of jangling spurs, twirling lariats, branding irons, and chuck wagons.

I turned back to look up--about eight feet up--at the “critter” as Tex called the camel, and wondered why the use of such a superbly designed desert animal never took hold in our desert regions. It’s a well know fact among camel aficionados that Camelus dromedarius can carry his rider as much as 100 miles a day, go several days without water, and doesn’t need shoes. Try that with your horse, Tex.,

Tex and I were part of a knot of tourists on the tour of Yuma, Arizona’s Saihati Camel Farm and Desert Wildlife Center containing one of the largest camel herds in North America. We weren’t the only ones whose sparse knowledge of camels came from movies like Lawrence of Arabia and The Sheik of Araby.

Terrill, our tour guide, explained that there are two types of camels. The two-humped Bactrian camel’s original distribution extended over the dry steppes and semidesert of central Asia to Mongolia. Its construction is better adapted to that rocky and cooler region. The single humped and taller dromedary, or Arabian camel, is found from northwestern India and the lowlands of Afghanistan to the extremity of the Arabian Peninsula and Somalia to the south and west across the African deserts. The dromedary is the camel of the desert and of the Saihati Camel Farm.

Thick, broad sole pads and thick calluses on the joints of the legs and on the chest, which it rests on when in a kneeling position, enable it to withstand the intense heat of the desert sand. Very long eyelashes shield its eyes, and its nostrils can be closed against flying dust. The endurance and strength of the camel have made it a valuable beast of burden. Besides its structural qualities, its adaptation to subsistence in the desert includes its ability to chomp on the thorny plants that grow there and to store flesh and fat in the humps, which are absorbed into their bodies when food is scarce.

Camels have been domesticated as efficient beasts of burden since ancient times, but attempts to introduce the species into the horse-defined mystique of the southwestern United States were without lasting success.

But then again, we Americans have our sacred icons. Can you picture the Lone Ranger and Tonto, “Hi yo Silvering” away into the sunset perched on the humps of camels? Or how about the rodeo cowboy chasing down and hog-tying a steer from camelback? I guess the straight-forward logic and functionality of the camel is not enough. It looks to me like it was just an impossible demand placed on the camel marketing department.

The Desert Wildlife Center also includes rare and endangered wildlife of the Arabian Desert, such as the long-horned Oryx, pygmy goats, water buffalo, the large-horned Watusi cattle, bat-eared Fennec Foxes, and an ostrich. Tours are conducted Oct. l through May 31, Mon. through Saturday at 10 AM and 2 PM. For information contact Saihati Camel Farm, 15672 South Avenue 1E, Yuma, AZ 85366 or phone (520) 627-2553.

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