Cairo the comical camel
by Molly Johnson
Fence Post Intern
He’s tall, he’s cute, he’s sweet … almost everything a woman could want in a man, but wait, he’s a camel!! Cairo the camel was featured for the first time this year at the 80th Annual Greeley Independence Stampede (GIS). On the average, Cairo gave approximately 300 rides per day this year at the Stampede, and on weekends, that number was even higher. Cairo can hold up to 1,000 pounds on his back, but his owners only load him with up to 200 pounds for each ride, otherwise he would tire out pretty fast on a hot day.
Cairo is no average camel. He’s much taller (by almost 2 feet) than a normal camel of his age and breed. He’s almost 500 pounds heavier than other camels like him, but most of all, Cairo is a quirky camel that loves to make people laugh and smile.
Cairo is a dromedary (one hump) camel, his species is from North Africa, but surprisingly enough, he loves the United States and adapts well to the weather. He was born in California, moved to Oregon and now lives in Kamiah, Idaho, with Rick, Lynne and Samantha Dishong when he’s not traveling the United States. Cairo weighs 2,200 pounds and stands 8 feet tall at the hump. Cairo is 7 years old and will probably live to be about 40.
Cairo, like many other camels of his type, can go up to two weeks in the desert during the summer with no water and can last an entire winter in the desert with no water. That doesn’t mean he does it though. Cairo drinks about 15 gallons of water per day when he’s giving rides at fairs and rodeos. He also eats about 20 pounds of hay per day. Cairo also eats a 3-pound bag of animal crackers per day. They are his favorite snack.
Now, I know you’re probably thinking that most camels don’t eat animal crackers as a part of their regular diet, but Cairo does. Cairo is a trained camel that responds to his owners because he has been rewarded with animal crackers. “Camels are the easiest animals to work with and train because of their intelligence,” said Rick.
When the Dishongs bought Cairo, he had the basics down in what it takes to give extraordinary camel rides, but the Dishongs took it a step further. They taught Cairo how to pose for the camera so that thousands of happy children can remember their first camel ride. After giving children a “rocking” ride, Cairo steps up to the loading dock and Rick says, “Pose Cairo!” and Cairo elegantly turns his head and gives the camera a sly, handsome look. “Snap!” In seconds, children are left with a polaroid snapshot of their newly found friend, Cairo. “They are very food motivated, which is what makes him so trainable,” said Rick.
This is the Dishong’s first time to visit the GIS in Greeley, but their favorite place to visit with Cairo is San Diego, Calif., where Cairo performs in a Christmas Pageant and is part of a live nativity scene. Cairo usually plays two parts in the live performance. He acts as a peasant’s camel, and also as the three kings’ camel. It’s a live, musical performance on a dark stage.
It’s somewhat out of character for a camel of Cairo’s size to perform in an event like this, however, Cairo’s docile personality and love for people allows him to step out onto a dark stage full of screaming kids and Christmas music in an attempt to “bring to life” the Christmas Story.
Not only has Cairo been in Christmas pageants and given many rides to children across the U.S., but he has many “quirks” that make him a very lovable, personable camel.
His personality is similar to that of a loyal dog. He always wants attention, but is very calm and loving at the same time. He loves people. Cairo loves to drink out of hoses and he loves giving people kisses. During the 4th of July fireworks, Cairo cocked his head in awe at the bright colors and loud booms. “He loved them,” said Lynne. At home, Cairo runs in a 5-acre pasture and chases horses. Though the horses are somewhat frightened by the large animal, Cairo loves other animals, big or small. At full speed, Cairo can run up to 12 miles per hour. And of course, you already knows how much he loves animal crackers.
Lynne said she and her family are always educating people about camels when they stop in to see Cairo.
“The biggest misconception people have is that camels are mean, nasty animals, but it just depends on how they’re treated,” said Lynne.
For example, many camels “spit” when they are scared or angry, but since Cairo has never been around other camels, he never learned this behavior. Since Cairo has been around people all his life, he considers them his family and is as gentle as a lamb.
Rick, Lynne and Samantha bought Cairo two years ago from some friends in Oregon. Since then, they have traveled the United States with Cairo. Each year, the Dishongs travel to 16 or more rodeos, fairs, festivals and Christmas pageants.
As far as coming back to Stampede next year … “We love the people, the fair and the staff,” said Rick. “If they’ll have us ” we’ll be back.”
As retired law enforcement agents, Rick and Lynne have had their share of animal training, from horses to dogs, but Rick agrees that owning a camel has been a most unique experience. While traveling the country and spending few days at home, the Dishongs have found an outlet that allows them to meet new people and have a little fun. “We’re not going to get rich, but we’re having a good time,” said Lynne.
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