It has been a while since my last blog post about Tuya, our baby Bactrian camel (see Baby Camel: Unexpected Encounter). Since then she has been weaned and introduced to both of our adult camels, Mongo and Mouse.
We started off with the three-year-old female, Mouse, since we expected her to be less aggressive with Tuya. Camels investigate new things by biting, chasing, and kicking at them; Tuya was no exception. Mouse started off smelling her and then would start chasing her, trying to bite her rear end in the process. We stood at the ready, just in case we needed to intervene and separate them.
Camels are also followers, so when one gets excited, they all get excited. Tuya would start running or kicking, which would cause Mouse to do the same. Of course, at this point Mouse weighed 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms) and Tuya was only 300 pounds (136 kilograms)—a huge difference! Thankfully, Tuya is very fast and can change direction quickly, which helped the situation. She was able to run out of the way of Mouse’s flailing limbs. It was quite a sight to see!
Within a few days the interactions were increasingly calm, and we felt the two of them could be left alone. They both did quite well, and we actually found them cuddled up next to each other in the morning.
When it was time to introduce Mongo, we weren’t sure what to expect. He is a large male (almost 2,000 pounds or 900 kilograms), and sometimes adult males can be aggressive. We weren’t sure if he recognized Tuya as his own offspring, but she is a female, so that helped. Mongo does not like any other males around his girls.
Mongo and Mouse had a somewhat unstable relationship before Tuya was born, and we wanted to make sure Tuya didn’t wind up in the middle of a chasing session. Tuya actually proved to be a great distraction for Mongo, and Mouse was able to eat and relax in peace. Mongo was, at first, quite interested in this small camel. He sniffed, chased, and did some half-hearted tries at biting. But mostly he behaved himself like a gentleman, as much as a camel can! Tuya enjoyed spending time with her dad and would hang out near him whenever she could.
Tuya has now been accepted completely into the herd, and Mouse has even gained the confidence to yell and spit at Mongo. In the camel world, that is a good thing! She stands up to him, and usually he just backs down, a huge improvement from their previous relationship. And Tuya has followed suit, yelling and spitting at her dad, all things I have been thrilled to see! Tuya knows she is a camel and acts accordingly.
Laura Weiner is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo.