Any mother will tell you it’s difficult to look after a newborn. But have you ever wondered what it would be like to raise a baby camel? It’s exhausting!
If you’ve been to the zoo this summer, you’ve probably had the opportunity to meet the youngest of our Bactrian camel family, Ambrosia. She has been described as: dramatic, spicy, spunky, loud, playful, and awkward. She can be seen running around in her field, kicking the balls around, and tossing them up into the air. She is super close to her keepers and a little scared of the other camels. Don’t worry, you will hear her from across the zoo if she gets too scared – she can be LOUD!
Ambrosia though, unlike other camels, wasn’t raised by a camel. Instead, she was raised by zookeepers. Her mother, Marshmallow, was a first time mom and couldn’t get the hang of taking care of a baby camel. Marshmallow enjoys the company of Ghengis and Dolly, the zoo’s other adult camels, but doesn’t seem to enjoy the company of the babies. When Ambrosia was born, her mother rejected her, which is not uncommon amongst animals.
The zookeepers worked with Marshmallow to try and help with her maternal instincts. However, when it became clear Marshmallow wasn’t a natural mother, our animal care team stepped in to help the baby camel survive and thrive. Fourzookeepers took on the exhausting task of hand raising a fast growing camel. The biggest challenge was as a baby, Ambrosia required a lot of food. The zookeepers worked out a schedule to bottle feed Ambrosia formula every two hours during the day, and every three hours overnight. And since you can’t take a camel home with you,each night they would take shifts to go to the zoo to feed Ambrosia through the gruelling hours of darkness. Even though she still had the opportunity to live with the other camels and learn from them – particularly her half sister, Tuyaa – zookeepers built a nursery for Ambrosia in the camel barn to keep her safe from the others as she was growing and building strength of her own.
Just like so many parents, the keepers became attached to this fluffy, long legged animal. Because this was the first time they had to raise a camel without the support of mom, it was a learning curve for everyone. The fear of Ambrosia’s future, her health, how she would react to the other camels, and how the camels would react to her was always going through their minds.
Ambrosia is now growing up and is down to only three bottle feedings a day, which makes it much more relaxing for the keepers to care for her. And when it’s bottle time, watch out! Even if she is sleeping in the field, she recognizes the sound of her zookeepers getting close and she is at the gate waiting for them to arrive.
Her personality continues to develop everyday! Next time you’re at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, be sure to stop by the camel habitat to say hi to Ambrosia and the rest of our camel family. Ambrosia is so curious about meeting new people – you never know, she may say hi back!