Camel Safari: Breeding camels in Whatcom County

There’s two ways to make it in the business world, according to Guy Seeklus’ philosophy. Either produce something common at a lower price than anyone else, or do something different; something with no competition.

Seeklus, the owner of a 105-acre camel farm northeast of Bellingham, chose the latter.

Seeklus raises and breeds camels at Camel Safari on 5435 Sand Road. Farm guests can ride camels and tour the farm and facility which includes 25 camels and several alpacas, horses, goats, and farm dogs. Camel Safari also hosts business retreats andoffers Segway rides and tours.

Families come daily for tours, even though Seeklus hasn’t spent a dollar on advertising since opening in June 2013. Seeklus is shopping for a ranch outside of Las Vegas, where he wants to move half his camel herd by this winter. There, he’ll shuttle Las Vegas tourists to his property to ride and learn about the enormous ungulates.

“Frankly, I would have never dreamt this was even achievable,” Seeklus said. “I just couldn’t believe how these animals were so giant, and yet so passive and mellow.”

Seeklus’ electric golf cart buzzes as he drives around his farm in a tan safari shirt. He stops to kiss and scratch his camels. He knows all 25 by name, and some even come when he calls, their powerful legs moving in long, slow strides.

Seeklus raises both Bactrian and dromedary camels. Dromedaries have one hump and are native to India, Africa and the Middle East. Bactrian camels are sturdier, with two humps. They’re native to the rocky deserts of Central and East Asia, which have more extreme temperatures than the dromedaries’ native habitat.

Seeklus’ Bactrian camels will live to be 40 or 50 years old, and can reach 7.5 feet tall at their humps. They tromp around the farm munching grasses on the organic pasture and leaving eight-inch tracks in the dusty barn with their round padded feet.

Camel Safari, with its view of Mount Baker’s icy slopes in the background and a salmon-bearing stream flowing near the pasture, may be a strange place for camels. But the desert dwellers seem to thrive in Whatcom County, Seeklus said.

Whatcom County’s only camel herd grew slowly. Seeklus bought his first camel, a 6-month-old Bactrian named Lexi, in 2010. He bought the farm a few months earlier because he liked the land and the lifestyle, and he planned to board horses and run his background check business from a home office.

Seeklus grew up riding horses on the Canadian plains. He owns three former Royal Canadian Mounted Police horses which he calls “the holy grail of horses.”

But camels are easier to deal with, Seeklus said.

“Simply put, the big difference between camels and horses is that camels are smarter, they’re more affectionate, and they’re easier to train,” he said. “They’re much hardier animals.”

Seeklus got his second camel, Norman, later in 2010. He didn’t yet plan to make a business out of his new pets. Then he noticed how interested people were in them.

“When people would come over they would just stand there and stare at the camels with their mouths open,” Seeklus said. “It’s not a great leap from there to thinking, “maybe this is something I could do.””

His plan to board horses went out the window. During the next few years, Seeklus slowly accumulated camels from all over the country, and then started breeding them.

Within a couple years, Seeklus said he’ll have four Bactrian cows that can breed with the farm’s Bactrian bull, Doha, a towering creature with fat-filled humps and woolly fur that’s falling off in the summer heat. (Camels’ legendary water storing ability has to do with the shape of their red blood cells. Their humps store body fat.)

Because camels come from harsh environments with few natural predators, they are not skittish, and they’re experts at saving energy. They sit in line with the direction of the sun to minimize the surface area of their bodies exposed to direct sun.

After going out to eat in the morning, most of the camels rest in a 100-year-old barn. One morning last month, a 7-foot-tall bull camel roamed free in a fenceless pasture, uttering the occasional chewbacca-like call. Seeklus didn’t worry about him escaping.

“They don’t run just because,” Seeklus said. “They don’t even stand up unless there’s a reason to.”

The bull in the pasture had food and, therefore, no reason to venture farther.

Camel Safari has about eight employees, Seeklus said. Carlynn Segerman, a camel trainer and tour guide, grew up riding horses in rodeo competitions.Horses are her first love, but camels are winning her over.

“They’re super sweet and they all have different personalities,” she said.

Currently, Seeklus is working with Sidi-Amar Taoua, a Toureg camel trainer who grew up in the Sahara Desert. Taoua has lived in the United States for about 12 years. He met Seeklus at a camel clinic in Pipe Creek, Texas.

If all goes according to plan, this winter Taoua will go to Nevada to work with Seeklus’ camels and run the Las Vegas branch of Camel Safari. Seeklus plans to stay in Bellingham with half his herd to run the administrative side of the business.

Seeklus’ camels also attend several fairs around the county. They’ll be at the Northwest Washington Fair from August 11 to 16 in Lynden.

Camel Safari Info
Where: 5435 Sand Road, Bellingham.
What: Camel encounters, camel rides, and segway tours.
When: Everyday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Cost: Cost for visiting the farm ranges from $25 per person for a camel encounter to $99 per person for a standard camel ride, to $175 per person for a premium camel encounter and segway tour.
More information: at camelsafari.com.

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