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3 Ways To Nurture a Camel’s Natural Instinct

If you’re a camel owner or care for camels in one way or another this blog post is for you!

The truth is that we humans take an animal from its wild and natural habitat, so we can admire, work with, get to know and understand them more. For thousands of years humans have been taming and domesticating wild animals for company or other practical purposes. The camel is no different.

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The problem of taking a camel (or any animal) from ‘wild’ to domesticated (whether it be first generation or not) are there is always a slight bit of their ‘wild’, natural behaviour and traits that goes away. It’s always human error and for us, there is this deep underlying feeling that even though we have now domesticated camels (and they enjoy our company) we feel a slight bit of guilt. On our farm, we try our best to keep the camel’s natural instincts intact for the sake of understanding the camel at its phycology, as well, as “preserving” their natural abilities, instincts and traits. Not only does this make for easier training and handling, but, we believe that it’s our duty as the ‘caretakers’ that we allow the camel to be well, be a camel!

If you’re like us, you love the camel for being a camel, so you’d want to nurture their natural instincts and maintain their behaviours that made you fall in love with them in the first place!

Lets look at some ways to keep the camel’s natural instincts and behaviours in tact -for easier training, handling and bonding. 

3 Ways To Nurture a Camel’s Natural Instincts

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1. They need friends

You’ve heard it before, either from us or other sources,  that it’s in the best interest of the camel that they are housed/paddocked in pairs.

A camel, by nature, is a copycat. They learn from their elders – regardless of the species – especially baby camels who is under two years old. It may seem ‘cute’ that a camel is copying behaviours of a horse, cow, goat, etc., but if we’re the devil’s advocate it’snot cute becausethe camel’s natural instincts and behavioural characteristics are slowly diminishing, and new ones are being formed (remember, they are copy cats).

We’ve had camels come to us from a young age and were housed with other animal species. The major difference we notice are the confusion on ‘who they really are’ which on a mental plain manifests as behavioural issues, aggressiveness and much harder to train and handle. We have a rule on our farm that if we get a camel that has not been housed with another camel, we turn them out amongst our herd of camels for 3-6 months (depending on the camel). We don’t work with or handle them for that duration of time, but we do observe and see major progress in their ‘learning to be a camel again’ as they copy the behaviours of the other camels and learn their place within the herd.

Bottom line, camels are to be brought and housed in pairs. This is not a marketing strategy, it comes down to the well-beingof the camel, it’s natural instincts (given they are a herd animal) and their overall well-being, particularly mental welfare in this case.

If you have been saving madly for a camel and the ‘right one’ comes along, but there’s no extra cash for a second camel, make it your new camel’s prerogative to get another camel friend ASAP.

2. “Enrichment” Activities for Camels

Have you heard about Enrichment Activities for animals? It’s usually when an animal is given a ‘hard task’ to complete usually in the shape of a man-made “toy” of sorts. The animal is supposed to “play” with it until a reward is gained. This track of thinking is right for some animals, but camels are different.

What we see, time and time again, is that the activities that are given to camels do not support their natural instincts and behaviours. It’s no one’s fault, it’s just that a camel’s physiology can take a while to understand and often trial and error will take place. The only way of knowing if trial and error has been detrimental, is when this results in difficult to manage behaviours. Obviously, the goal here is the enrich the camel’s natural instincts and behaviours as they would in the wild so…

Here’s some examples of enrichment exercises for camels – side note here, camels in a large herd or well replicated domestic environments generally don’t need a lot (if any) of these exercises.

·      Handpick tress and shrubs that your camels like to eat and hang them higher than the top of their head, so they mustreach to get to the branches. This supports their natural wild instincts to forage and reach for their food and encourages them to think of ingenuities ways to get their food. This is what they would do in the wild. And, if your camel has other camels with them they will work together as a team to get to this yummy food – It’s amazing to watch!

·     Another alternative is to take your camel for a walk to tress and shrubs that they would like to pick, explore and forage. In the wild, studies have shown from tracking wild Australian camels, that a camel can and will walk up to 50km/day just foraging for food and water! So, walking and eating at the same time is 100% in a camel’s nature. Even in our herd, on our farm, we notice that every day the camels will walk the entire property (as they are free range) doing their natural thing – foraging for food.

·     What not to do, is give your camels ‘hard task’ activates such as balls to “play with” – these are very dangerous. ‘Treat balls’ that have kibble or other food rewards drop out of them when they turned the right way. Yes, the camel will keep going and going until they get the food reward, but it’s frustrating for them and does not support any of their natural instincts or behaviours, because they are foragers not hunters. Also, it doesn’t support their mental wellbeing and it’s not every mentally stimulating for them.

The important thing to keep in mind is that a camel doesn’t need too much ‘entertainment’ if theyare housed/paddocked in a way that replicates their natural environment .

To give you an idea of an ordinary day of a camel’s behaviours, here’s what it looks like:

They wake up at sunrise, poop, get up, have a little stretch, pee, soak up the sun for a while, start making way to food, slowly start eating, after a few hours – sit down, chew cud, get up, eat some more, maybe push around buddies a bit – just to let them know whose boss, sit down, chew cud, pee, poop some more, and repeat!

3. Use Training & Handling that the camel understands

A camel that is being trained for the first time will understand what is being ask of them quite quickly, because they are very intelligent creatures. Now training can go two ways: the first way is being the coercive, dominating and forceful approach. The second way is building trust, gentle, persuasive training with an “elevation” approach.

If you’re not getting quick results with your camel, then, it’s likely that you’re using language they don’t understand.

Training and handling camels is all about working WITH the camel,not having the camel work FOR you. Why? Because in herds of camels (in the wild and domestic) they work together, so this method makes sense to a camel. Now, every now and then, there is always a ‘bully’ and another camel is FORCED to do something and surely, they will, because camels always live on the verge of fear, it’s in their nature. So you can see that the two camel training and handling methods will work, but one day in a herd, when they are much older and more confident, that bullied camel will fight back, they don’t care about the consequences! That’s why you need to be careful what and how you’re teaching your camel.
This is what camels respond to best when training & handling:

Respect.

Just think of the natural herd environment, there is always a level of respect that one camel has for another, so your job when training and handling is to give them respect and they’ll give it back!

Work with the camel’s strengths.

Think about what a camel will do in its own time. They will sit down and walk around. For an un-trained camel you need to build on their strengths so that trust is gained and they feel proud of themselves (which they do)! Other training can come later. Consistently build on their strengths, especially if they are young.

Now it’s over to you!

What was your main take-away from this and are there somethings that you’d like to implement right away? Tell us in the comments below!

Russell Osborne & Tara Lea Australian Camels

Cameleers Camel Trainer Tara Lea & Russell Osborne

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