By Bob & Lynn Difley
You wouldnt get me up on that ugly thing,
no way, pardner! Im 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. Im 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. Its
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 doesnt need shoes. Try that with your horse,
Tex and I were part of a knot of tourists on the tour of Yuma, Arizonas
Saihati Camel Farm and Desert Wildlife Center containing one of
the largest camel herds in North America. We werent 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 camels 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
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
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.