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King James in the Midwest

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Chaz Mottinger | Inside

Rena Kirk and King James

Local resident Rena Kirk raises a camel in southern Indiana

Published on Apr. 9, 2012 | Print | Share | Recommend ()

It’s one of the secrets of State Road 46. Rena Kirk, 58, says cars will come to a complete stop as they drive by to gawk at her baby. Of course, her “baby” is about 1,000 pounds and is usually found in the desert. Ten years ago, Kirk brought a three-day-old baby camel back to her 14-acre family farm, which is about a 20-minute drive from campus. She named her little guy King James.

Where do you buy a camel in the Midwest?

I found a camel guy in Michigan, and he had a few babies so I went to go pick him up. He was all legs. I bottle fed him five times a day for five-and-a-half months. I found a circus trainer in Peru, Ind., who helped me train King James. He can lie down, crawl, stand on a pedestal and he used to be able to stand on a teeter totter. I also ride him sometimes.

Do you have any other animals besides King James?

Right now, there’s about 30 animals on the farm. Fifteen sheep, two angora goats, two miniature horses, three donkeys, three ponies, an Irish wolfhound, a turkey, rooster, two golden pheasants, several peacocks, a macaw, llama, and an emu named Kramer.

How do you afford all these animals?
They support themselves. I take them to schools and festivals, and we do pony rides. We sell the wool from the sheep. And King James is the star of live nativities in Bloomington. He’s completely booked the month of December.

As the only camel, does he get ever get lonely?

King James is really sociable. Since camels don’t have thick eyelids, I have to keep him out of places where trees and stuff could poke him.  But every now and then, I let him roam with the other animals, and he comes back all feisty, begging to stay with his friends. But the sheep hang out with him, and he will be neck to neck with the horses on the other side of the fence.

When I think of camels, I usually think of hot, sandy places. How does King James handle the Bloomington climate?
Camels are very hardy. The desert is hot in the day, but it gets very cold there at night. The only time I bring him in is if it’s slushy snow or ice. But when it’s drier out, he doesn’t really care what the temperature is. He’d rather be outside than inside.

And you named him King James. Why did you chose that name?
I just knew he’d grow up to be worthy of that name. I feel the Lord has blessed me to have stewardship over these animals and a passion for them that has helped me endure for years on what is more or less a ski slope, 365 days a year for 20 years. I haven’t had a vacation in all that time. They are my babies.

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