E-News

Young camel trains for a star's life
By Teresa Rochester, trochester@VenturaCountyStar.com
September 2, 2006
This baby has a shot in showbiz.
If he follows in his mother's hoofsteps.

But first, 8-week-old Micah needs to learn how to steadily walk on all four of his spindly legs.

Like all baby camels, he has a tendency to splay out all of his legs, which makes him look a little crazy. And he has not yet been weaned from his mother, though he also snacks on her alfalfa.

That's where six students in the Exotic Animal Training and Management Program at Moorpark College come in. This semester a half-dozen students were selected to train the doe-eyed infant and his mother, Lulu.

"We walk them and we train them," student Dawn Robles, 23, said as she stood outside the camels' pen in the hoofstock area at American's Teaching Zoo on the college's campus. "The importance of the walks has to do with obedience training."

Being obedient is crucial for Lulu and her young son. The pair are owned by Gentle Jungle in Lebec and are on loan to the college. The company supplies animals for events as well as movie and television productions.

Lulu made an appearance in Las Vegas when singer Celine Dion renewed her marriage vows with her husband. Micah's mom also appeared in the movies "Jarhead," "The Scorpion King" and "The Mummy."

"She's a bit of a celebrity," Robles said. "She's a very good camel, and she's used to people, and she's been around people her whole life."

On a recent Saturday, red harnesses were slipped over the heads of the two dromedaries, and they were led out of their pen for a walk.

They traveled with an entourage. One student, armed with a radio walked ahead of the group calling out "camel here" as they neared blind corners. Two walked the camels, while two more students, carrying wooden canes, brought up the rear.

The canes are used as extra arms and safety precautions.

As Lulu sauntered down the road, Micah at times was overcome by excitement, bouncing around and trying to sneak chunks of fruit from his guide.

"He is a really sweet boy, he just has his moments," student trainer Morgan Bateman said. "He sometimes throws little temper tantrums at you."

Bateman said Micah has also been known to bite, but working with him "is exciting."

The students aren't sure how long the camels will be with them. Once Micah is weaned, Lulu might be sent back to Lebec.