Our neck of the woods: A camel teaches us a little bit of local history

Hodor the Dromedary camel enjoys an apple treat at his new home, Keepers of the Wild.

Photo by Linda Khachatoorian/Special for the Miner

Hodor the Dromedary camel enjoys an apple treat at his new home, Keepers of the Wild.

Some people enjoy a nice drive in the countryside. There are a number of people in the area that think our roads need more work. Consider the fact that 160 years ago there were no roads in Mohave County at all. Thanks to distant predecessors of Hodor, a Dromedary camel, a start was made, and multitudes of western immigrants were thankful.

Camels once roamed North America until the ice age. Surviving South American camelids include Llamas and Alpacas, which also reside at Keepers of the Wild. The remarkable return of camels to the Southwest occurred in the mid-1850s when they were imported to help survey transportation routes between the East and West coasts.

American citizens had few choices for travel across the continent. They took an ocean voyage around the farthest tip of South America, or took a short cut through the Panamanian jungles of Central America. The western territories from the Mississippi River to the West Coast were considered to be wild, unexplored and extremely dangerous. A petition to the U.S. Congress was signed by 60,000 citizens to establish a permanent road connecting east and west coasts. Surveyors were sent to explore the shortest and safest routes and that is why the Dromedary Camel came through Arizona.

The U.S. Camel Corps came into existence in the 1850s. Twenty-five camels were imported from Egypt to be used by Lt. Edward Beale to survey the 35th parallel across the desert southwest. Explorers surveying and building roadways and towns often chose to name areas or places after their personal lives. It is interesting to realize that Lt. Beale’s mother’s maiden name was Truxton. When he was a midshipman he was assigned to a naval squadron under Captain Robert Stockton. It is fun to think how some of our local roads and regions got their names.

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Hodor, the Dromedary camel.

If you take a drive along Route 66 from Kingman to Truxton or beyond, you may find signs commemorating the “Beale Wagon Road 1857-1882.” Lt. Beale’s expedition built the 10-foot wide Beale Survey Trail from Fort Defiance, New Mexico across Arizona to the Colorado River. Rocks were cleared and placed alongside the trail. There are still areas of the original trail that are visible in portions of the Kaibab National Forest. The trail became a road and eventually Historic Route 66.

Camels are very sensitive creatures and have been domesticated for thousands of years. But they are not like horses, burros or mules. Experienced camel drivers understand the mindset of a camel however the muleskinners and teamsters that participated in the Beale expedition had trouble with them. The camel can go for days without food or water unlike a burro or horse. It was often a custom in the 1800s to allow horses, burros and mules the opportunity to graze loose at night while the men rested. The animals normally stayed close to camp. When the muleskinners let the camels loose at night, the camels roamed for miles and the men had to spend hours searching for them in the morning.

Although the camels carried water and food for the men and the other animals, the camels did not require those supplies. The camels traveled faster than the other animals and carried three times the weight. The camels were able to easily pull teams and wagons from areas where they became stuck. The camels easily swam across the Colorado River at the end of their journey.

Yet the majority of the populace could not find acceptance of these magnificent creatures. Horses, mules and burros were frightened and would stampede at the first sight of the Camel Caravan. The muleskinners and teamsters were a tough bunch thinking of the camels as a foreign abomination. The sensitive camels would not submit to cursing or abuse of any kind. Camels have a way to communicate their displeasure about something. They will snort, spit, kick or bite if they feel threatened.

The Army Camel Corps came to an end when the American Civil War began. Some of the camels were sold to ranchers, miners or prospectors. Others were sold to circuses and gave rides to children. Many of the private owners became tired of caring for the camels and ended up turning them loose in the deserts and mountains. Camels survived throughout much of the Southwest until the turn of the century when the last authentic sighting was reported in 1901.

Earlier this year, Keepers of the Wild accepted a camel who needed a home. The wildlife sanctuary is primarily known for its lions, tigers and bear residents. They actually care for 50 different species and sub-species of wildlife. Opening the gate to a Dromedary Camel seemed to be the right thing to do, especially since there are no limits as to height.

Hodor had previously belonged to a loving owner who used him as part of a camel ride business located near Mesquite, Nevada. The 9-year-old camel was sometimes used in photo opportunities and during one session accidently bit a model that had been holding a bouquet of flowers. Insurance companies will often pay for animal-related claims only once. When Hodor became a liability risk he needed to find a new home. His owner contacted Keepers of the Wild and delivered Hodor to the sanctuary.

Take a good look at Hodor and you will discover for yourself why the camel was chosen. Known for centuries as the “Ship of the Desert,” start with his feet. He has no hooves, just two toes with a large leather-like pad to keep him from sinking into sand and protects him from hot desert temperatures. The hump does not store water but does store fat to provide energy when food is sparse. A camel’s long neck allows them to browse branches of trees reaching up to 11 feet high. The eyes have an extra membrane that may be seen through even when it is closed while protecting from wind particles.

When you think about it you may realize it is appropriate that Hodor was taken to Keepers of the Wild. He and the 150 other animals there all needed a home. When people make the decision to own an exotic or wild animal for a pet, they often come to the conclusion that they made the wrong choice. Some people that use animals for entertainment realize the same thing.

It is good to have a wildlife sanctuary that is able to properly care for these unwanted animals instead of having them turned loose to fend for themselves.