We all want to do the right thing by our animals, in this case our camels, but sometimes the lack of understanding of a camel’s psychology – their way of thinking – can do more harm than good.
The truth is that to gain a good understanding of a camel’s psychology takes years of being around them and there are no real solid studies (yet) to conclude a camel’s way of thinking to help camel owners understand them better, this means a lot of trial and error takes place from camel husbandry, camel training and camel handling.
This post is not about judging others who may or may not give their camels toys to ‘play’ with. This is about education about how a camel thinks, to help any potential problems or dangers manifest. You don’t have to Google far to hear of‘pet camels killing their owners’. It’s so sad, but true. The sadder part is that it’s human error because of lack of information and education – it’s our main concern and frustration for us as camel owners, trainers, handlers and lovers.
It’s our duty as camel advocates and mentors to other camel owners, to call out the warning signs and dangers of camels having, using and ‘playing’ with toys.
We’ll break it down by the most common toys used and explain how a camel thinks towards these situations.
Large Balls (a.k.a. Horse/Jolly Balls)
If a large ball was to enter a camel’spaddock there’s a couple of things that might happen.
1. They’ll never go near it as it’s too scary
2. They will go near it and start pushing it around, seeming like they are ‘playing’ with it and if possible get it into a corner of some sort so the ball will stop, and they can try “sit” on it. And if it doesn’t stop they will continually try to ‘play’ with it so it will stop – so they can sit on it.
Sounds funny right!? The scary part is that it’s not funny once you know what the camel is really thinking.
So what IS the camel thinking when playing with this type of camel toy? Simple answer is, they want to destroy and kill. The ball is foreign, scary & un-natural – they wouldn’t find one of these out in their natural environment.
What camels don’t know about, they fear about.
This ball is like a predator to the camel. It’s threat that needs to be gone! We’ve also seen this with round hay bales, a camel will “sit” on it. Simply put, if a camel is sitting on anything other than the ground, it’s scared of it (exclusions for in-tact bull camels, that’s a whole other topic). The reason a camel will keep pushing a ball around is that it’s trying to intimidate the ball so it will stop and the camel can crush it (this is what they’d do to a predator in the wild). Not so funny now. What if the ball was blue and a young child wearing blue come into the camel’s paddock. You can see the danger signs! Big jolly or horse balls are simply a frustration to camels and they do not support any of a camel’s (positive) natural instincts , except to kill things unknown to them. What camel owner wants to nurture that instinct? Not us!
Treat Toys and Balls
These reward-based balls or shapes are supposed to keep an animal entertained within their domestic environments. When you think about the psychology of a treat balls for a cat, dog or even a horse this can make sense. Cats and dogs are hunters and horses use their hooves & muzzle to reveal herbs and grasses in the natural environment. For a camel, it’s just frustrating. Camels are not grazers by nature they are forages which means they mostly prefer to search up high for food like trees and shrubs, and sometimes eat herbs and the like from the ground. Camels will certainly adjust to a grazing environment, but their natural instincts are to forage for food. So a treat ball doesn’t make sense for a camel. It will only frustrate a camel, which isn’t very mentally stimulating for them.
What else can you offer?
Offer tree and shrub branches (that are safe for them to eat) and hang them above their head level so they have to reach for it. We wrote more about this topic with practical suggestions – 3 Ways To Nurture a Camels Natural Instincts.
(Although not a toy) Salt Blocks can keep them ‘entertained’, but comes with warnings.
Have you ever seen a camel trying to eat a slat block? They will spend quite a while “playing” with the block trying to bite off chunks of salt. They will toss and turn the block trying to get their daily requirements of salt. There’re doing this because camels need a lot of salt in their diet, and can eat up to 1kg per day (sometimes more). So you can imagine how frustrating it is for a camel to try and eat a salt block just to get their daily requirements.
There are two factors here that can frustrate a camel when eating a salt block
1. They don’t have long enough tongues to lick it – camels have short tongues!
2. Since the tongue doesn’t work they will use their teeth which will result in pre-mature loss of teeth from constant grinding.
So,what to do instead?
Use 100% pure loose salt (can get it as pool salt). Make sure it’s pure salt, no additives added. Leave a bucket (either with heavy bottom or tied to a fence post) with loose salt in it so the camel will help itself at free will. Depending on their need, ssome camels may eat more than others, that’s why it’simportant that salt isn’t hand feed as each camel’s ratio varies depending on what they are eating, drinking and their general well-being.
So there we have it!
Tell us what your biggest take away from this topic was and if there is anything that you’d like to implement – let us know in the comments below.