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Camels help kids get over humps in personal lives

By Jennifer Fitch The Record Herald

Doug Baum, VisionQuest's livestock coordinator for camels, has traveled from Texas with two camels he says help youth develop problem-solving skills.
Doug Baum, VisionQuest's livestock coordinator for camels, has traveled
from Texas with two camels he says help youth develop problem-solving skills.

MONT ALTO - It's no secret that camels can travel long distances. So why should it be surprising to see two of the creatures in Mont Alto?

Well, these two camels traveled in style from their home in the Southwest amidst luxuries unavailable to their ancestors.
They rode in a trailer and ate quality hay during the trip.

The two will spend some time at VisionQuest's horse farm near the square in Mont Alto with the students in the program.
"I'm not trying to teach kids to be great camel handlers, but problem solvers," said Doug Baum, VisionQuest's livestock coordinator for camels, who brought the two from Texas.

He teaches young people to catch a camel and tie it to a post using a sturdy knot. The teens are taught how to make the camel kneel. Then, they saddle and mount the camel for a ride.
Baum described the experience as "Camel 101."

"These kids learn there's a problem they can't muscle or street wise their way out of. You can't lie to a camel to get him to do what you want," he said.

Baum has special instructions for students when they return their camels to the field.
"Tell your camel you love it, thank it and hug it on the neck."

Big personalities

Baum manages the VisionQuest herd of 12 camels in Texas and owns five of his own. This week, he's traveling with Richard and Ibrahim.

"These are my personal camels," he said.

Nine-year-old Richard is 8 feet tall and weighs 1,700 pounds. He has red hair and is the dominant of the two.
Ibrahim is a curious 2-year-old who is 5 feet tall and weighs 500 pounds. He has dirty blond hair and likes to bug Richard, trying to get his elder to romp with him.

"Sometimes they play silly camel games," said Baum.

The camels are fed three times a day and do a lot of grazing. They mostly enjoy the same fare as horses - grass hay, grain and salt blocks.

Camels at the capital

Baum, Richard and Ibrahim will be in the area for a few days before journeying to Washington, D.C., to participate in a special Smithsonian event.

The 39th annual Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall is open from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, June 23, through Monday, June 27, and from Thursday, June 30, through Monday, July 4. The featured culture is that of Oman, a desert nation on the Arabian Peninsula.

Richard and Ibrahim are Arabian camels whose bloodlines can be traced to the Australian wild. Their parents were captured in the Outback and brought to the United States in 1988.

"I was a zookeeper in a previous life," said Baum, who noted he always was interested in exotic work animals that can thrive in harsh climates.

"So the camel thing fit in with that whole theme," he said.

He's worked with camels for 12 years and been employed by VisionQuest for eight. His three children help him with the camels.

At times, it seems Baum may have more than three children: Ibrahim moaned while being brushed Monday, and Baum promptly told him to knock it off.

When the youngster behaved, his handler kissed him on the nose.
"Both are very affectionate," he said.

Seems they're not the only ones.

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