Here’s looking at you kid. Chehaw’s newest resident Bogart, a bactrian camel, is looking forward to his first meeting with the public this Saturday. (Staff Photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — Everyday at Chehaw is now hump day since the arrival of its newest resident, Bogart, a bactrian camel, that will greet the community when the park’s new camel exhibit opens to the public Saturday.
“It’s really exciting to have him here,” said Morgan Seegmueller, Chehaw’s public relations coordinator. “Getting new animals is something we hope to continue doing to keep the zoo fresh. It’s just more involved than people think. Not only do you have the cost of getting him here, you have the upkeep.”
In fact, Chehaw was able to acquire Bogart thanks to Geico Insurance, who is sponsoring the camel for a year.
“Getting Bogart kind of started with the ‘hump day’ Geico ads being so popular,” said Seegmueller. “Geico is actually sponsoring him. They gave us a one time sponsorship. Hopefully he’ll draw people to the park and we will also be selling camel ‘hump day’ t-shirts. They’re really cute.”
To introduce Bogart to the general public and to unofficially kickoff the park’s spring season Saturday, Chehaw is holding its ‘Get Outdoors Day’, which will feature feedings of Bogart as will as the season opening of the park’s African Veldt rides. There will also be an alligator presentation, an animal program at the park’s amphitheater, rhinoceros feedings and cheetah runs.
“There’s a lot going on at the zoo Saturday,” said Seegmueller. “It’s an unofficial spring kickoff so we’re encouraging everyone to come out and have a good time.”
Despite everything going on that day, the main attraction is sure to be Bogart, who is the first new arrival to the park since Chehaw welcomed a group of kangaroos in 2012.
“It’s kind of a new thing for the park,” Seegmueller said. “Way back when, in the Tift Park days, I think we had a camel, but that was a dromedary camel.”
According to Ben Roberts, the director of animal programs at the park, there are quite a few differences between Bogart, a bactrain camel, and dromedary camels, something he hopes the public will come to learn now that Bogart is at Chehaw.
While dromedary camels have just a single hump and are indigenous to northern Africa and southwestern Asian, bactrians like Bogart are native to central and eastern Asia, in the arid region known as the Asian steppe.
“Where they’re from is very rocky and there’s not a lot of trees or water,” said Roberts. “So these guys have adapted to that.”
Some of the adaptations that the camels have made include having large feet that spread when they walk to help them traverse sandy and rocky soil. One of the more prominent adaptations camels have made is developing humps where they store water in fat reserves.
“The humps aren’t filled with water,” Roberts explained. “They are fat reserves that hold a lot of water so a camel can go months without water. They also have a large lip that works like a straw. When they find a water supply they’ll suck it dry. Bogart can drink 30 gallons in less than 15 minutes.”
While ready access to water will not be an issue for Bogart while living at Chehaw, he will still retain water through drinking and from the food he’ll eat and always have his humps.
He’ll also continue to grow during the first few years at Chehaw. Currently he is two and a half years old. Camels in captivity have an average life expectancy between 40 and 50 years. Over those years they can grow to a height of nearly 8 feet and weight more than a ton.
“They get big,” Roberts said. “A small female might weigh around 600 to 800 pounds. A large male can hit 2,200 pounds easy. He’ll probably put on a few pounds. He’s about 1,200 pounds now, but he’s shaggy, not as thick as he looks. Before it’s all said and done he’ll double in size.”
A natural herbivore, bactrian camels traditionally eat grasses and small shrubs. Bogart’s diet consists of roughly nine pounds of pelleted diet daily and additional hay and fruits and vegetables.
Getting to watch Bogart eat will be something park visitors will get to do on a regular basis, as Chehaw plans to have regular camel feedings open to the public much they way the park currently allows for open alligator and rhinoceros feedings.
In addition to feedings, Roberts hopes to see more events that will draw interest in Bogart, which will hopefully enable to park to expand the exhibit and acquire more camels.
If all goes well, Roberts said he would like to bring in some female camels to breed with Bogart to help grow the overall bactrian camel population.
Bogart was born in captivity and his father, Humphrey, and his mother, Saarai, still live at the Cincinnati Zoo, where they recently welcomed Bogart’s brother, Jack.
In the wild, bactrian camels are currently critically endangered and, according to Seegmueller, the only species of camel found in the wild.
“They are the only truly wild camels left,” Seegmueller said. “They are also critically endangered. Having Bogart here kind of helps the species.”
Seegmueller and others at Chehaw hope having Bogart at Chehaw will help the park continue to be an attraction for the area.
“I wanted something that was going to be an attraction to people,” said Roberts. “I think people will be excited to see him. Being here is a new thing for him and kind of a new thing for me too. He’s a lot of fun. He’s actually really cool.”