For millennia camels have ferried people across the Sahara Desert, carried goods between the oasis towns of Arabia and been the lifeline of nomads living in the Sahel.
But after Brandyn Fouts climbed off the back of Mojave, a 6-year-old dromedary, he echoed one of the reasons the camel hasn’t caught on as North America’s choice beast of burden.
“The hump is not a comfortable seat,” he said Saturday.
The 11-year-old Port Orchard boy was one of the first customers to ride Mojave on the first day of Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium camel exhibit. He climbed aboard the sand-colored animal and giggled as a zoo employee led the camel across a patch of woodchips.
Mojave is one of three camels on which zoo customers can ride; Point Defiance is the first zoo in the Northwest to offer such an attraction. The rides will be offered throughout the summer and likely on weekends through September, said Derek Chapin, a visitor services supervisor with the zoo.
Each ride lasts a few minutes and costs $5; three people can ride at once.
“I didn’t know what riding a camel would be like,” said 10-year-old Oliver Corcoran of Mercer Island, who rode with two of his friends, Mitchell Meade of Mercer Island and Aksel Hansen of Issaquah. “It was a lot of fun. Camels are cool.”
The camels smelled faintly like farm animals slowly swayed side to side as they clopped along the path. On Saturday morning, Mojave was doing most of the rides, but a 4-year-old female dromedary named Ruby was close behind.
“They’re pack animals by nature,” said Jesse Jearn, who owns West Coast Camels, the contractor running the exhibit. “So we’re making Ruby a little less nervous by having her tag along with Mojave.”
The third camel, a 4-year-old Bactrian/dromedary named Duma, stood in the center of the riding circle. He was scheduled to give rides later Saturday. During busy times, two or three camels will offer rides.
The animals were born in Oklahoma from a herd with roots in Australia. They arrived at Point Defiance on Monday and have been living in a pasture next to the outdoor theater. They eat about 10 pounds of grass, hay and grain each day.
Zoo organizers aren’t exactly sure how popular the exhibit will be. During a members-only session last week, about 150 people rode the camels in two hours, but the lines were smaller during Saturday’s launch.
Amanda Morrill traveled from Rochester with her two daughters, 7-year-old Amber and 4-year-old Anna, to ride the camels.
“They were fun,” Amber said. “I’ve never been one on.”
“I like (Ruby),” Anna said. “She kept putting her neck against my shoe.”
“It was bumpy,” Amanda said. “It was kind of like riding a horse – but with humps. But it was a good time. If I had an unlimited amount of money, we’d be riding on it all day.”