In August 2010 the OVAH admitted an unusual patient to the Production Animal clinic. A camel living on the East Rand in Gauteng, had semi-collapsed and could only get up with assistance. The camel was one of several that were utilized by their owner to provide camel rides to the public at various outdoor shows and entertainment venues. The owner realized that something was wrong, and after calling us for an appointment, drove the camel to us. It took four students, three animal-handlers plus the owner to get the camel unloaded, as she was very unwilling to stand. Finally after much unsuccessful struggling, one of our equine handlers who is very tall and powerful, took a firm grip of her tail and pulled hard, and she gave a huge startled bellow and staggered to her feet!
Once in a big camp full of tef and lucerne, she again collapsed, and it was quite a challenge to examine her clinically. She bellowed loudly when her temperature was taken and blood samples drawn, and was clearly delighted to be left alone to eat and rest.
Lab results showed that the camel had an infection, and also, interestingly, that she appeared to have very high sodium levels in the blood (compared to the levels of cattle, and other domestic species). After a literature search to find out more about these stately ‘ships of the desert’, it transpired that the camel’s sodium levels were actually normal for its kind. In fact camels apparently require a daily handful of salt or access to a salt lick in order to maintain their high water intake, which allows their hump to maintain its typical shape (the hump is fatty tissue and is used as a means of storing water which the fat cells release to hydrate the camel when it walks for days in the desert without drinking). Camels also require a high protein diet, and many owners in the Middle East feed their camels meat to ensure that the camel has sufficient protein to endure the rigors of desert traveling.
The ‘camel in the camp’ was treated with antibiotics and pain medication, and every day for three days, she was hoisted up, unwillingly and with much grumpy bellowing. She even sank her teeth ungratefully into the arm of one of the veterinarians treating her (talk about biting the hand that feeds!). Then she started standing on her own and also walking around, and after a few days it became clear that she was better and ready to go home. The owner came to fetch her, and so off sailed the ‘ship of the desert’ - on the back of a bakkie!