So­cial Circle’s kiss­ing camel

The Covington News - - Local - MADE­LINE BURGESS

When I first learned that some­one in our community had a pet camel, I was skep­ti­cal. Af­ter all, So­cial Circle is not a desert — and we don’t have any sand ex­cept at the So­cial Circle Ace Home Cen­ter where we can pur­chase a load or two for our gar­dens. But, it turned out to be true.

Ch­eryl and Jim Wa­ters, who have 10 acres of mostly pas­ture sur­round­ing their home in So­cial Circle, do in­deed have a pet camel. His name is Gobi — a 7-foot, 1,200-pound enor­mous bun­dle of mis­chief and love.

Ch­eryl owns and op­er­ates the “De­jaVu on Eleven” shop in down­town So­cial Circle, which of­fers a huge col­lec­tion of new and gen­tly used cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories. Jim Wa­ters, pre­vi­ously in the con­struc­tion busi­ness, had been tem­po­rar­ily side­lined with a back in­jury but he is now anx­ious to get back to work. Ch­eryl and Jim share a great love for an­i­mals.

Gobi lives in a pas­ture with three horses, a don­key, a mule and three dogs. He is the undis­puted star of the fam­ily.

He has his own en­clo­sure where he eats, sleeps, trains and greets his many vis­i­tors. Gobi loves peo­ple, and to show his af­fec­tion, he will give you a kiss to prove it. When I vis­ited him, I was “sub­jected” to a few wet, sloppy kisses — which were quite an ex­pe­ri­ence.

I learned a lot about camels from Ch­eryl and camel web­sites (camel­farm.com and sandiego­zoo.org). It seems that much of their anatomy is based on a need for pro­tec­tion from sand. A camel has large eyes on the sides of its head pro­tected by long, curly eye­lashes that keep out sand. Thick eye­brows shield the eyes from the desert sun.

Gobi has small rounded ears far back on his head, cov­ered with hair even on the inside, to keep out blow­ing sand. His nos­trils are slit-like to pro­tect against blow­ing sand. Gobi is ob­vi­ously safe from blow­ing sand in So­cial Circle.

Gobi needs con­stant brush­ing be­cause his hair grows in such great abun­dance, es­pe­cially dur­ing the win­ter months. Ronda, Ch­eryl’s daugh­ter, demon­strated the brush­ing pro­ce­dure with an un­co­op­er­a­tive Gobi, who had other things on his mind. Ch­eryl has bags of camel hair that she is stor­ing for fu­ture use or sale.

The hump of a camel is mostly a lump of fat that may weigh about 75 pounds or more. Most kinds of an­i­mals store fat in their bod­ies, but only camels keep most of their fat in a hump. If food is hard to find, the fat in the hump pro­vides en­ergy for the an­i­mal, and if a camel is starv­ing, its hump shrinks.

Camels usu­ally walk, es­pe­cially if it is hot, but when they must go faster, they ei­ther gal­lop or pace. Their leg ac­tion pro­duces a sway­ing, rock­ing mo­tion that makes some riders “sea­sick.” Camels are some­times called “ships of the desert.”

Camels have two toes on each foot and they walk on a broad pad that con­nects its two long toes. The pad sup­ports the an­i­mal on loose sand in much the same way that a snow­shoe helps a per­son walk on snow. They make al­most no sound when they walk or run.

Ch­eryl has been able to train Gobi to lie down (cush), to ac­cept a hal- ter and lead rope and, of course, to kiss al­most on de­mand. How­ever, like a don­key, he of­ten pays no at­ten­tion to com­mands. (She couldn’t get Gobi to cush for me.) Now that Gobi is 5 years old and fully grown, he will be fit­ted with a sad­dle so that he can be rid­den (if he’s in the mood of course).

Above all things, Gobi loves to eat. Gobi will eat al­most any­thing. The trees in Gobi’s en­clo­sure have been de­nuded of limbs up to a level where he can’t reach them. He ate the roof off his house and in fact ate the wood in the back wall that re­sem­bles the pro­file of a camel’s head. The Wa­ters plan to con­struct a new house for Gobi — this time it will be made of metal.

I asked about what Gobi does dur­ing heavy rains and thun­der storms. Ap­par­ently he puts his head and ev­ery­thing that will fit up to his hump into what is left of his shed, goes down on his front feet and waits it out, his front pro­tected by the shed and his back side out in the rain or storm.

I asked Ch­eryl about what sparked her in­ter­est in rais­ing a camel. She said that she has al­ways been in­ter­ested in an­i­mals; as an only child, she had pets, real or imag­i­nary, as companions.

She was fas­ci­nated by camels, and when she in­quired at the Ge­or­gia Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture, she learned that there was a camel breeder lo­cated near So­cial Circle. She adopted Gobi when he was 2 weeks old, a lit­tle fella about 2.5 feet high. He used to lie in her lap un­til his size made that re­ally im­pos­si­ble.

Gobi is an ab­so­lute sweet­heart. He lopes around in his en­clo­sure, cu­ri­ous about vis­i­tors and anx­ious to in­ter­act with them. He’s easy to en­gage with a car­rot or two and will de­posit his sloppy kiss on you with or with­out Ch­eryl’s in­sis­tence. He wants to know “what’s go­ing on,” and paces up and down to ob­serve hu­mankind ob­serv­ing him.

Ch­eryl at­tended camel train­ing in Jack­son, Mo., and hopes to continue this train­ing in the near fu­ture. She is now work­ing to ob­tain fed­eral and state per­mits to give schools and other in­ter­ested groups an op­por­tu­nity to visit Gobi.

She may even be able to of­fer camel rides (if Gobi is in the mood, of course). She also hopes to pro­duce an­i­mal cen­tered events on week­ends.

In the mean­time, Gobi runs and plays with horse col­leagues in the big field be­yond the Wa­ters home and his en­clo­sure. There are three horses, an Ap­paloosa named Pride who was pre­vi­ously a hunt jump cham­pion, a Palomino horse named Ban­dit, and a Ten­nessee walk­ing horse named Sasha. Pa­cho, the mule, is the prod­uct of Sasha and Jethro, the don­key. Pa­cho and his mother, Sasha, are in­sep­a­ra­ble companions, and if they get sep­a­rated, Sasha will lash out and bite him for caus­ing her worry. When I was there, I heard Jethro bray­ing loudly by the fence try­ing to at­tract the two minia­ture don­keys that live in the ad­ja­cent field, which he ap­par­ently does quite of­ten. Af­ter his lit­tle episode with Sasha, it is ob­vi­ous that Jethro is quite a guy.

Ch­eryl con­tends that Gobi and his four footed friends have brought much joy into their lives. And that joy is in­fec­tious. I left with a good feel­ing about the love and care that Jim and Ch­eryl are giv­ing them. And if you have a chance to visit Gobi, it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence you al­ways will re­mem­ber with plea­sure.

Made­line Burgess is an ac­tive vol­un­teer in So­cial Circle and the wife of for­mer Mayor Jim Burgess.

Sub­mit­ted photo /The Cov­ing­ton News

Ch­eryl and Jim with Gobi, the So­cial Circle kiss­ing camel.

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