Exotic visit for Marion County

Sully, a 6-year-old camel owned by Robert and Ashley Olmstead of Goddard, paid a visit to Salem Home residents and visitors on Friday. Robert, lead zookeeper at Tanganyika Wildlife Park at Goddard, said camels can run about 40 mph. Aleen Ratzlaff / Free Press

It’s rare for an exotic animal to make an appearance in Hillsboro, but on Friday, July 13, Sully, a 6-year-old Dromedary camel, was close enough for residents at Salem Home to reach out and touch him.

Lisa Donahue, director of marketing and public relations at Salem, said her son-in-law, Robert Olmstead, a senior zoo keeper at Tanganyika Wildlife Park, agreed to bring the one-humped Sully for the enjoyment of residents and children and other adults in the community.

“These are probably some of the most amazing desert mammals in the world,” Olmstead said.

Towering over Olmstead, Sully weighs about 1,000 pounds, stands well over 6 feet tall, requires nothing more than a bitless bridle as a lead, and still has some growing to do, he said.

“He should grow for another two years,” Olmstead said. “We have a camel at the zoo weighing 1,700 pounds and is more than a foot taller than Sully.”

Just like people, camels have their own personality, he said. Some are docile and laid back, but Sully was a bit nervous when he first arrived.

“The longer we have been outside, though, the calmer Sully is getting,” he said.

Citing an example of a camel in its natural habitat, Olmstead said the camel can go for two weeks without water and whether one hump or two, use their humps for storing fat when food becomes scarce.

“In captivity, we provide water all the time,” he said, “and camels will drink anywhere from five to 10 gallons a day. We also have to be careful not to overfeed with nutritious foods.”

In the desert, he said, the camels don’t get a lot of nutrients from the grasses available, but if alfalfa was introduced as part of their diet, it could cause problems for the camels based on the high content of nutrients.

“Camels pull nutrition out of everything they eat and with rich grasses like alfalfa, it could hurt them,” Olmstead said.

Another interesting fact about camels, he said, is that they are curious creatures. Almost everyone who walked up to Sully was greeted with his big-lipped snout.

And even though camels might look uncoordinated with their long, spindly legs and relatively thin bodies, Olmstead said they can run anywhere from 25 to 40 mph, and Sully, like his other counterparts, moves with effortless grace.

Accompanying Olmstead from Goddard, located 15 miles west of downtown Wichita, to Hillsboro and back was his wife, Ashley, who is Donahue’s daughter.

Peter Mungai, CEO of Salem Home, said he was pleased with how well the residents responded to Sully, adding that Donahue’s idea was a hit with everybody.

Salem Home is a long-term care facility at 704 S. Ash St., Hillsboro.

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