Can you introduce yourself in a few words?
My name is Valeri Crenshaw. I grew up riding horses and raising Angus cattle on my family’s ranch in the Flint Hills of Kansas in the United States. In 1992, I met camels for the first time while traveling across Egypt. It was in the Sahara Desert near Libya and they immediately stole my heart. In 2006, my father surprised me with two dromedary camels. It was at that moment I knew all my dreams had come true. I was finally a cameleer and madly in love.
What is your career path?
At university I studied journalism and psychology and ultimately became a psychologist. That is how I pay the bills. The rest of my hours are spent with my camels, learning about camels, collecting camels and traveling to camel events.
Where do you currently live?
Currently, I split my time between my city home in Kansas City, Missouri and my family’s ranch near Manhattan, Kansas.
Where did this love for camels come from?
I grew up surrounded by animals and have loved being around them since I was very young. International travel with my father and a comical moment in the Sahara Desert opened my eyes to camels. As we were driving across the desert, I said, “Look Papa, are those camels?” My father quickly glanced out the window and said : “No, those are oil derricks.” Right then, one of the “oil derricks” raised his head and looked at us. My father and I burst out laughing and something clicked inside of me.
How many camels do you have ?
I currently own 5 camels: Algiers is 7 years old; Raika is 1.5 years old and Sadri is almost a year old. I have two youngsters who are finishing up their duty at a camel dairy in Colorado and will soon be at Shamrock Farms. Their names are Damascus and Suez.
Do you prefer 1 hump camel (Camelus dromedarius) or 2 humps camel (Camelus bactrianus)?
I have never met a camel I did not instantly like. So to me a camel is a camel is a camel. But if forced to choose, I gravitate toward the dromedary camels because they remind me of a desert oasis surrounded by date trees, minarets blasting the call to prayer, small cups of mint tea, incense burning through a colorful, bustling market…
Among the anatomical and physiological wonders of the camel, which one fascinates you the most?
I consider camels pretty wonderous animals overall. Their ability to adapt to nearly any condition continuously fascinates me. In Kansas we have harsh winters where temperatures may fall below -30 degrees F with snow blowing, frozen waters and sharp winds, but the camels remain unfazed. They may choose to lay in the snow, with bits of ice on their long lashes and snow packed on their backs all the while calmly chewing their cuds.
Then summer comes around and temperatures can hover well over 100 degrees, but the camels are simply hanging out without a bit of discomfort.
But I cannot lie, I wish I could figure out how to have their eyelashes for my own!
What’s your more beautiful memory with a camel?
Most of my camel memories put a smile on my face. I often daydream about riding camels through Jordan’s Wadi Rum, making cherished friendships while training camels in the Steppes of Mongolia, finishing our weeklong walk through the Thar Desert with the Raika to take a camel herd to the Pushkar Fair. But I also get great joy out of simply walking with my camels around Shamrock Farms.
I suppose if I had to pick one day, it would be the day the first camels arrived at Shamrock Farms and I became an official cameleer. I fell deeply in love with those two camels and they literally changed my life.
What is your “worst” memory with a camel?
The highs of camel ownership associated with our great love of these beasts makes us all susceptible to the horrible pain that comes with losing one of our camels.
I have had three camels from my small herd die completely unexpected and all three times I was unprepared for the heartbreak and pain that came along with those losses. One of the most difficult moments was witnessing one of my other camels experience grief after his best buddy died.
My own grief was unmanageable, but to know your dear camel is suffering a similar pain only made things that much more difficult. To this day, I cannot even talk about those camels without tears rolling down my cheeks.
What is your greatest achievement/proudness in the world of these large camelids?
I really don’t feel like I have done anything worthy of achievement in the camel world. Merely a passionate student, advocate and observer. I suppose, my biggest goals are to make sure that my camels live the best life they can ever live and to do my part to help future veterinarians gain opportunities to meet and handle camels so they may one day provide camels with exceptional health care.
What is your greatest failure/disappointment in the universe of these large camelids?
Being a camel owner in the United States means you must be very diligent to learn all about camel husbandry. Nutritional needs and health care needs. I would love to help write a comprehensive manual that provides information on the basic care and handling of camels for ranchers living in North America.
I would also love to cultivate a better network of veterinarians who are extremely knowledgeable on camel health. And to compliment both of those aspects, it would be incredible if camel specific products were made available in the USA, such as camel milk replacer, nutritional supplements and medicines.
Tell us about a typical day of your daily life?
My days vary greatly depending on the day of the week. Half of the week, I live my city life where I must dress up and go to the office, and hopefully the day ends with dinner at a nice restaurant. The rest of the week, I am at Shamrock Farms wearing blue jeans and cowgirl hats, covered in dirt and may not see another person except for family members.
When I am at the ranch, I help my father with all the duties of ranch life such as herding cattle, bucking hay bales, pasture management and landscaping. When the chores are complete, it is all camel time until I am so tired, I fall into bed. The camels love attention and I love to give it to them by brushing, walking and practicing their commands.
Do you drink camel milk daily?
Yes! I drink raw, unpasteurized camel milk daily. Also, I use camel milk skin products such as eye cream, cleanser, serum and moisturizer. I use camel milk body products including body wash and lotion.
Recently I just started using camel milk shampoo and conditioner for my hair. And you can always find camel milk lip balm in my pocket! I even get camel milk balm for my family members who try to manage their eczema.
What is your favourite camel milk recipe or dish?
I am not a good cook because I would rather be outside than in my kitchen. So I rely on others to perfect the camel milk recipes. Some of the best cheesecake I have had was made by Ilse Kohler-Rollefson at Camel Charisma in Rajasthan. She makes a pretty delicious camel milk cheese also.
Probably my favorite way to consume camel milk is when the Raika milk a camel and then within seconds put it on the fire to make chai. Delicious!
What would you like to see develop or improve in the future for camels?
I see a bright future for camels worldwide. I would like to see more research in how to best care for our camels. The aim is to improve camel husbandry overall. In America, we struggle greatly with parasite issues and could benefit from progressive modes of prevention. In America we also do not have access to artificial insemination, embryo transplants or in vitro for our camels. The calf mortality rate is staggering compared to other American livestock.
I know the science exists, but we have not made the move to advance camel science in the States. It would be a dream to work with the progressive Gulf States universities and organizations like the International Camel Organization to change this. Camels living in North America deserve progressive health interventions.
How can we contribute to the cultural and socio-economic development of camels around the world?
Being passionate about camels makes it a natural transition to being a camel advocate. I hope to see the power of camel admirers come together in associations like the North American Camel Ranch Owners Association, the International Camel Organization and the active European camel associations (FFDCFE, FFC, ECROA) to promote camel health, support camel cultures (especially those struggling in their own countries like the Raika of India) and educate others on powerful and sustainable camel products such as camel milk.
The strength of these organizations and associations is a bright light on the horizon of our camels’ futures.
Why do you think camels are one of the solutions for ecological transition?
Camels are adaptive, hardy animals that can open the door in helping us find solutions in a chaotic time. Resource for sustainable food products, they continue to influence innovative scientific studies and they certainly have the power to improve human health.
In addition, they can promote environmental improvements through educational opportunities, classroom presentations or mental health interventions.
They can advance education in remote parts of the world. Like when they are used as mobile libraries in Pakistan and some African countries. We just have to listen to their histories and their stories of adaptations while also being progressive in our definition of livestock and how we co-exist with animals.
What do you like to see on social networks?
If you were to open up my social media pages or news article links, it would take about 1 second to realize I want to learn more about camels. I seek new information about camels, meeting like-minded camel crazy people, seeing how to best care for my camels and discovering international camel events.
Where can we follow your adventures and find your activities/publications/articles?
I have a tendency to compartmentalize parts of my life in neat little boxes, so on Instagram I have a page for my travels (Valerispassport), a page for my growing camel collection (Camel.lady) and then a page that just covers my daily interests (valericrenshaw).
I am very new to Twitter, but I am trying to learn. On Twitter, I am Camel Queen @CrenshawValeri.
A final word for camel lovers or those who don’t yet know this animal?
Upon meeting new camel lovers, I would give them a hug and say “welcome to the family” because those of us who share this passion are serious about what makes our hearts sing and when we find like-minded folks, we tend to be drawn to each other. Being a member of the camel community, even on an international level, feels like you are part of a family.
To someone not familiar with camels, I would say proceed with caution. Your life will never be the same once they wiggle into your life and steal your heart.