To offer Tuya room to start her “camel dancing” practice, we built a pen that ran the length of the camel exhibit from front to back. She was allowed access to it all day long and brought in at night for safety. Soon she was comfortable enough to stay out overnight next to her herd mates, Mongo and Mouse. We installed a gate in this fence so we would be able to access the rest of the yard for cleaning and interacting with the adults. I had no idea how important that gate would be until one very exciting minute of my life!
I was chatting with Zoo guests and answering questions about the camels while in Tuya’s exhibit pen to play with her. She walked away for a bit, and I kept answering questions, not noticing what was going on behind me. It seems Tuya, who loves resting up against the fences, plopped down next to this one and somehow made her way under it. In normal circumstances this would be fine, since she was still contained on exhibit, but wiggling her way in with Mongo and Mouse was not normal at all.
Thankfully one of the guests pointed it out to me, and I ran as fast as I could into the exhibit. Mongo was very curious as to who this small camel was in his way; he came over and sniffed her. As she started to trot away from him, I was able to guide her back into her safe pen. It didn’t take much effort and she came willingly, just as confused as Mongo had been.
It is possible my heart skipped a few beats that day, but thankfully neither of the adult camels seemed to care that Tuya had entered their space. We modified the fence so Tuya, the escape artist, would not have any more unsupervised visits with Mongo or Mouse. Either one could have bit her or kicked her just for curiosity’s sake, not knowing that they could hurt her.
Our next step is to introduce Tuya to Mouse, our three-year-old adult female. As long as we decide when they will meet, I will be happy. No more surprises!
Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.