Tuya, our baby Bactrian camel, has been doing great and growing more and more every day (see Baby Camel Care). Our next challenge, now that any health issues are out of the way, is to make sure she knows that she is a camel. It may sound funny, but we needed to get her next to her family so she would start learning the “camel code.”
We set up a pen next to the camel exhibit that was bedded down with an entire bale of hay to keep her warm and give her a nice place to rest. At first, she was to spend a few hours next to adults Mouse and Mongo. This would give them a chance to come over and visit and Tuya a chance to see and smell them. This area also gave our guests a chance to see her getting her bottles and interacting with the keepers. You can’t help but fall in love with this fuzzy little camel!
Within a week, Tuya was spending all day next to the adult camels. I would halter her up in the morning and walk her over to the nursery pen. She would be fed her bottles and spend the day checking out the scenery. At night she was returned to the warm barn for her evening snooze.
She was doing great outside, and we decided to try an overnight. We had slowly been shutting the heat off in the barn to get her used to the nighttime temperature. I must say I was a bit worried that she might get cold, but she was very good at laying in a warm hay bed. In the wild, baby camels snuggle up right next to Mom and sometimes even on top of her to stay warm. Tuya loved laying next to us in the hay, and sometimes it was very hard for me to leave. The tough life of a zookeeper!
Mouse and Mongo did not show much interest in Tuya most of the time. Camels are so focused on food that everything else is mostly ignored. But occasionally, one of them would come over and smell her. They would touch noses for a moment, kind of a camel greeting. Camels identify each other by breath. Mongo especially loves to smell our breath. It’s kind of like the secret password to walk into the exhibit. He won’t let me pass until I blow into his nose for at least 15 seconds. It must look quite comical from the outside!
Our next step: a bigger pen on exhibit.
Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.