Keeper Diary - June 2007
I have just returned from my holidays which I spent in Mongolia of all places. The reason: to see wild Bactrian camels and work with a herdsman herding goats and his domestic camels. How strange to spend your holidays essentially just doing your job in another country!
But in all seriousness, it was a great experience and I learnt many new skills including riding horses, camels, herding goats and milking camels. It was also very interesting to see the great differences between the wild and domestic camels. The wild camels have much finer and lighter hair and also less of it. They also have very small humps, compared with the domestics.
However, none of the camels out there were as nice as the two females we hold at the zoo, Nadia and Noemie, and I was very glad to be working with them again this week. At this time of the year, the camels go through a period of losing their hair for the warmer summer months. This is a natural adaptation to living in the Gobi desert where the temperature range between the seasons is so huge. Their thick coat keeps them warm in the freezing winter, and then they fully molt for the baking summer heat.
In the wild the camels rub up against spiky vegetation to help them to lose their hair, but, at the zoo, just like the herdsman do for their camels, we help the hair to come off by grooming them and cutting it off. It is a very satisfying job getting all the dusty hair and must be a joy for the camels too, as it must be itchy and very hot under all that hair as the temperature rises. During the process you can also create interesting and amusing hair cuts, such as Mohawks and bowl cuts! However, we don’t let them suffer the indignity for long and the whole process is over in an hour or two.
Once complete the girls looked so tiny compared to what they were only a couple of hours before and their necks appear very snake-like. No matter how many times I carry out the hair cuts, the baldness is always slightly shocking and comical for the first week or so, after that it becomes the norm. In the camel world bald women are obviously more of a peculiarity than bearded ones!