U.S. deaths & injuries from camel attacks occur at about 10 times the global rate, but attacks where camels are work animals are not rare
OBION, Tennessee––Tennessee men Bobby Joe Matheny II, 42, of Ridgely, and Tommy Gunn, 67, of Obion, were on March 10, 2022 stomped to death by a camel at Shirley Farms in Obion, a local petting zoo also known as The Pumpkin Farm LLC.
“At approximately 4:44 p.m. the Obion County Sheriff’s Office received a call of a loose camel near Shirley Farms on South Bluff Road attacking people,” said an Obion County Sheriff’s Office media release.
“Deputies arrived on scene to find two unconscious victims on the ground at Shirley Farms and a camel still on the loose,” the media release said.
Two men dead, camel shot at the scene
Four other agencies responded to the call, including the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, Ridgely Police Department, Tennessee Highway Patrol, and the Lake County Rescue Squad.
They “were all on scene attempting to render aid and move the victims to a safe place,” the media release continued. “The camel attacked an Obion County Sheriff’s Office vehicle, then moved towards deputies who were attempting to move a victim” to an ambulance.
Police at that point shot the camel.
Matheny and Gunn were pronounced dead on scene, the Obion County Sheriff’s Office said.
From the scarce available information, neither victim appears to have had any prior association with either the camel or Shirley Farms.
“Tried to get the camel back into his area”
Matheny, a janitor at Lake County High School, and Gunn “tried to get the camel back into his area and things didn’t go as planned,” Matheny’s cousin Cameron Evans posted to Facebook, “because [the camel] was a male and was in rut.”
Shirley Farms was cited in 2018 by the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service for Animal Welfare Act violations including lack of a safety barrier to keep the public away from a zebra, camels, llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep, pigs, fallow deer, a kangaroo, a zebu, rabbits, a cavy, and prairie dogs.
Added the USDA-APHIS citation, “The only attendant noted present at the exhibit was the cashier, who does not have a direct line of sight on any of the animals.”
Shirley Farms was cited again, in 2019, for failing to provide an adequate water source for the zebra and camels.
Camel trampled two to death in Texas
The deaths of Matheny and Gunn mirrored the January 10, 2015 deaths of Mark Mere, 53, and Peggye McNair, 72, in Wichita County, Texas.
Mere, a neighbor, “was helping McNair with her three camels by trying to break through the ice in a water trough,” reported the Fort Worth Star Telegram.
“But water was the last thing on the mind of this camel, who was ready for mating season,” the Fort Worth Star Telegram continued.
“The camel trampled Mere and then McNair as she tried to help him, Wichita County sheriff’s deputy Melvin Joiner said.”
Stomped for a Coca Cola
The deaths of Mere and McNair also had recent parallels.
Tulum Monkey Sanctuary founder Richard Mileski, age 60 according to U.S. sources but 70 according to Tulum Civil Defense official Aberto Canto, was fatally stomped by a camel on October 13, 2014 at the sanctuary in Yucatan, Mexico.
“One version,” Canto told media, “is that Mileski would always give the camel a Coca Cola to drink, and apparently, that day he didn’t give the camel the Coca Cola. The camel kicked and bit him practically to death, and when he was almost dead, he sat on him.”
Originally from Chicago, Mileski died at the scene.
2007 death reported also in 2014 & 2021
The most recent previous pet camel attack fatalities before that, at least in the developed world, came in 2007.
In August 2007, a recently acquired 10-month-old male camel in rut for the first time fatally stomped Pam Weaver, 60, near Mitchell, Queensland, Australia. The camel had reportedly previously attacked other animals at Weaver’s farm.
That camel attack was inexplicably re-reported by international media as if it had just happened in both April 2014 and March 2022.
Only four months earlier, on April 22, 2007, a four-year-old male camel named Polo, purchased at an auction in Central Florida three weeks previously, killed Cathie Ake, 55, of Wewahitchka, Florida. Polo too was believed to be in rut.
C2K Camel Ranch owner Erik Kallstrom of Rifle, Colorado, husband of Rifle Citizen Telegram newspaper editor Carrie Click Kallstrom, was luckier a month later when a 19-year-old bull dromedary (single humped camel) reportedly bit, kicked, and lay down on him: he lived through it.
Many other people survived attacks by camels kept as pets and for exhibition between the 2007 fatalities and those of March 10, 2022.
Camel at the Tiger Truck Stop
Perhaps most notoriously, Associated Press and many other media reported on September 24, 2019, a camel named Caspar kept at the Tiger Truck Stop in Grosse Tete, Louisiana received antibiotics after a woman named Gloria Lancaster bit his testicles.
“Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office documents accuse Florida couple Gloria and Edmond Lancaster of throwing treats for their unleashed dog into Caspar the camel’s enclosure,” Associated Press said.
“The couple told deputies the camel attacked the dog, but the sheriff’s office said the couple had provoked the animal before he sat on Gloria Lancaster. She had crawled under barbed wire to retrieve her pet.
“Gloria Lancaster told officers she had to bite the camel to free herself,” the Associated Press account finished.
Among other cases associated with camel use in entertainment, a 57-year-old camel handler for the Lewis & Clark Circus, not named by police, was on July 14, 2017 airlifted to a hospital with severe head and leg injuries suffered while unloading a camel from a horse trailer at the Charles County fairgrounds in La Plata, Maryland.
Karen Saccone, 61, of Cavendish, Derby, United Kingdom, in June 2017 suffered a fractured pelvis, five broken ribs, a collapsed lung, and knee injuries after she fell off a camel on holiday at Fuerteventura beach in the Canary Islands and was then stomped and kicked by both that camel and another.
Florida resident Sylvia June Abbott in May 2017 sued the United Sons of Confederate Veterans after a camel named Sir Camelot kept at the Jefferson Davis Home & Presidential Library in Beauvoir, Mississippi, attacked her in October 2015, fractured a wrist and vertebrae.
Camel attacks & bites reported as funny
But Steve Brefka, 72, of Palmdale, California, just happened to be there when in February 2014 he was stomped, bitten, and kneeled upon by a rutting runaway pet camel. Brefka escaped further injury by crawling under a parked car.
Despite the frequent severity of injuries associated with camel attacks, media reports typically treat such incidents as flukes and somehow funny.
Video clips still surface, for instance, showing a camel biting the head of WWBT-TV general assignment reporter Tara Morgan in Richmond, Virginia in May 2011.
Morgan was not seriously hurt. First aired by WWBT, the video soon appeared on Inside Edition and Jimmy Kimmel Live as well.
Camels, lions, tigers & pit bulls
Reality is that according to The status of the camel in the United States of America, an authoritative report by Texas Camel Corps founder Doug Baum, a camel owner himself since 1993, “A little over two thousand Arabian camels and three to five-hundred Bactrian camels reside in the U.S.,” which may have increased to about 3,000 since Baum wrote in 2010.
That means that about 45,000 camel years, or years of camels’ lives, have elapsed in the U.S. since 2007, during which time camels have killed someone about once per 9,000 camel years.
This in turn means camels in the U.S. kill someone approximately as often as captive lions and tigers, more than 10 times as often as pit bulls, and more than 100 times as often as dogs other than pit bulls, bullmastiffs, Presa Canarios, Cane Corsos, and Rottweilers.
Inflicting mayhem at such a rate seems counter-intuitive in view that camels have been domesticated for more than 3,000 years, and are globally the animals other than equines used most often for work.
Only horses, donkeys, and mules are used for work in more nations by more people than camels, with bullocks (steers), llamas and alpacas coming next––and llamas and alpacas are both close camel relatives.
If the 28.4 million camels worldwide, or even the estimated 14 million in human service, were killing people at the U.S. rate, camels would be killing from 1,500 to 3,200 people per year, and would scarcely enjoy the relatively benign reputation that they do, as animals who obviously can be dangerous because of their size, but mostly are not.
Global data shows more risk than is realized
Globally, camels are trusted to pull carts bearing half a ton or more of cargoes as dangerous as bricks and concrete blocks, often amid city traffic, where many have learned to obey stoplights and let people pass in front of them at crosswalks, with a driver’s restraint a mere suggestion, since a camel with a shrug of his or her shoulders can flip a driver and cart straight to hell.
But even in nations where people are as familiar with camels as with equines, camels turn out to be much more dangerous than is generally realized, pointed out scholars Naushad Ahmad Khan, Ayman El-Menyar, and Hassan Al-Thani in “The nature and consequences of camel-related injuries: A scoping review with special reference to Arab Middle Eastern countries,” published on January 24, 2022 by Injury: The International Journal of the Care of the Injured.
Bites, falls, kicks, collisions
Wrote Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani, “Camels can occasionally be very hostile to humans, inflicting serious injuries. These injuries can be caused by camel bites, falls from their backs, kicks, or collisions with motor vehicles. The relative magnitude of each mechanism has never been extensively studied. Further, the incidence of camel-related injuries is not well reported worldwide,” although there have been several studies of injuries and deaths suffered by children used as jockeys in camel racing.
This practice is now banned in the several nations where it once was common.
Attempting to quantify camel-related risk in ordinary, legal use from the limited available data, Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani reported that, “Unpublished data from the Hamad Trauma center in Qatar, the only tertiary trauma center in the country, showed that there were 145 cases hospitalized with camel-related injuries over the last 10 years (around 1% of the total trauma hospitalizations).
Death rate in camel/vehicle collisions six times higher than in vehicle/vehicle crashes
“According to a study by Saudi Arabia’s National Committee on Transport Safety, a total of 341 camel/vehicle collisions were observed in 1997, resulting in 16 human fatalities and 215 injuries. This equates to seven out of every 10 camel/vehicle collisions causing human death and morbidity.
“According to another study, the yearly occurrence of camel/vehicle collisions in Saudi Arabia is over 600, with a mortality rate of one out of every four camel/vehicle collisions,” or about 150 human deaths per year, “a rate that is six times higher than all other forms of road traffic incidents.”
The death rate in camel/vehicle collisions appears to be so high, Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani suggested, because camels are tall enough and heavy enough that when hit by cars traveling at excessive speeds, as is usually the case, the camels tend to fall on top of the passenger compartments, adding crushing injuries to impact injuries.
Also, camels sometimes crash through car windshields and sunroofs, injuring the occupants as the camels struggle to kick themselves free.
Camel kicks most common cause of injury
While camel/vehicle collisions are the most common cause of human deaths associated with camels, Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani observed that, “Camel kicks are the most common cause of camel-related human injuries.
“Camels were responsible for more than 80% of animal-related injuries in the United Arab Emirates, with kicks being the most prevalent method of damage.”
A similar study done in Saudi Arabia found that among more than 200 people who were injured by camels, 36.8% had been kicked.
“Attacks involving kicks are more common in the breeding season when male camels become more aggressive,” Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani wrote.
How kicks occur
“The camel may kick with the front knee when the caregiver bends to tie the camel’s front knee to prevent him or her from standing up,” Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani noted.
Alternatively, “A standing camel may kick at high speed by the back hoof, which may reach up to the level of the victim’s head and chest.”
Then, although a camel’s foot is not as hard as the hoof of an equine, especially if the equine is shod with metal shoes, the size of the camel’s foot means that a kick to the head tends to distribute bone-breaking injuries to all parts of a victim’s face.
“In addition to kicking, camels may also walk on, trample, or squat on people, resulting in numerous fractures and significant organ and soft tissue damage,” Khan, El-Menyar, and Al-Thani warned.
All of which suggests that if camels are to be kept at all for recreational purposes, close contact by any but expert handlers should be prohibited.
Camels, after all, do not normally go around asking to be petted, ridden, or otherwise kept in confinement.