Caspar the camel was minding his own business inside his enclosure at the Tiger Truck Stop petting zoo in Grosse Tete, Louisiana, when suddenly a pair of unwanted visitors commanded his attention.
Caspar, the largest resident at the zoo, is accustomed to having visitors all day as truckers pull off Interstate 10 west of Baton Rouge to see the exotic creatures, a peculiar roadside attraction that has long drawn the wrath of animal rights groups.
But this pair of visitors was different. On Wednesday, they broke into Caspar’s pen – causing the 600-pound white camel to panic and a Mad Libs-style series of unfortunate events to unfold, as authorities would later explain on Sunday.
“It was just crazy,” Pamela Bossier, manager of the Tiger Truck Stop, told The Washington Post on Monday, “to the point of, why would somebody do that?”
Bossier watched it all unfold on her security video footage. Problems arose when a man began tossing treats inside Caspar’s enclosure, leading his and his wife’s dog to hop the fence to go after them, Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Louis Hamilton Jr. told the Advocate on Sunday. Problems worsened when the deaf dog would not respond to calls to come back.
So the man and his wife made a decision: They were going to crawl underneath the fence, past the sign that said “No Trespassing,” and retrieve the dog from Caspar’s territory themselves, Bossier said.
Caspar was not pleased.
The man started “swatting” at Caspar, trying to push him out of the way while she bent down to pick up her pet.
That’s when it happened: To defend himself, the camel sat on her, authorities told the Advocate.
Trapped beneath the camel, the woman apparently did the only thing that made sense in the moment.
“I might feel kind of funny saying this on TV,” Bossier told WBRZ, “but she actually … bit him in his private area. That’s about as nice as I could put it.”
Hamilton was blunter: “She said … ‘I bit his testicles to get him off me,’ ” as he explained to the Advocate.
On Sunday, Hamilton revealed the camel had been cleared of all wrongdoing after the Iberville Parish Sheriff’s Office finished investigating the freak incident. Instead, deputies cited the unidentified couple for criminal trespassing and for not having their dog on a leash, he told the Advocate.
“The camel did nothing wrong,” Hamilton said. “They were aggressive. The camel was just doing its normal routine.”
Bossier said that she can’t tell from the security video whether the woman actually bit the camel’s testicles and that he appears to be fine, but she has called a veterinarian just to be safe.
The extent of the woman’s injuries are unclear – Bossier said Caspar did not sit all the way down on her. But in any case, authorities determined the Tiger Truck Stop couldn’t be held liable because the couple “provoked” Caspar and ignored the warning signs posted along the fence. She said she does not understand why the couple didn’t simply ask employees for assistance.
“The camel was not attacking the dog. I watched it,” she said. “Instead of them running to get help at the restaurant, which is 60 feet away, where we have people who are trained to tend to the camel, they decide to crawl under the barbed-wire fence. At that point, you’ve invaded his space – which is private property. … I guess he felt threatened.”
The camel arrived last July at the Tiger Truck Stop, about 20 miles west of Baton Rouge, to replace the zoo’s former mascot, Tony the Tiger. Tony was euthanized for kidney failure in 2017 after 17 years in captivity.
The Bengal tiger died while he was at the center of an ongoing legal battle brought by animal rights advocates, who fought for years to remove him from the truck stop, among 18-wheelers and diesel fumes, and transfer him to a wildlife sanctuary. The owner of the truck stop, Michael Sandlin, launched a “Save the Tiger” campaign. But he only drew more outrage when he at one point considered sending Tony to a wildlife park owned by a zookeeper named Joe Exotic, the New York Times reported in 2013. Joe Exotic, real name Joseph Passage, has since been convicted of two murder-for-hire plots and 17 federal wildlife violations.
Instead, Tony remained at the Tiger Truck Stop until his death.
“For more than seven years, we litigated on many fronts to free Tony, and we are devastated that despite our best efforts, he lived and died caged at a truck stop that could never provide the life he deserved,” the Animal Legal Defense Fund said in a statement after Tony’s death.
After Sandlin brought in Caspar last year, the same group told the Advocate that it was “disappointed” the truck stop would “continue to exploit animals to try and promote” business. A baby kangaroo, miniature horse and a coati – a member of the raccoon family – also live at the petting zoo, according to the Advocate. Sandlin has complied with state and federal health and licensing requirements, the Advocate reported.
Bossier said the Tiger Truck Stop had never had any incidents with any of its animals in its 30 years like the one that unfolded last week.
Hamilton added that as far as authorities could tell, Caspar was a harmless animal who has “never been aggressive, never caused any issues.” He told the Advocate he tried to understand why the couple did what they did but got few answers.
“My only question to her husband was: ‘Why did you throw the doggy treat under the fence?’ ” Hamilton recalled. “And he just said, ‘I wasn’t thinking.’ ”
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