Tag Archives: Science

Camels And North America

Photo by Kyaw Tun on Unsplash

A (Brief) History Of Camels In North America

Much to everyone’s surprise, Camels were once native to the North American continent. Eleven thousand years ago these Camelops roamed the western United States and, though modern relatives live in Africa and Asia, relatives of the species as a whole may have spread across to Asia from Alaska via the Bering Strait. As with many land bridge hypotheses, this one has its holes, such as how our updated understanding of evolution and human migration patterns have impacted other species such as Equuis scotti.

By the time Europeans came west the North American camel had long since disappeared. The Texas Camel Corps is excited to educate everyone about the role of camels in United States history. It wasn’t until 1701 that its first relatives returned to the continent as an import to the Virginia Colony by a slave trader, most likely for use as work animals. In contrast, a wealthy Massachusetts ship captain named Crowninshield imported a pair of show camels for his personal menagerie. Later, in 1748 Arthur Dobbs, landowner, and governor of North Carolina, imported a pair of camels to work his land. No records exist to suggest he ever sold individuals that may have resulted from a breeding pair.

Camels remained an exotic novelty until 1856 when President Franklin Pierce was in office and the country experienced the unique election of President James Buchanan. President Franklin Pierce was an expansionist excited to encourage and sign policies that pushed for the exploration and utilization of the Southwest. What is  a better way to explore an area assumed to be an arid wasteland than with animals everyone assumes are made for arid wasteland? And so the Texas Camel Corps and its association with the United States Calvary began. Responsible for at least 60 Arabian and 15 Bactrian camels, the Ottoman Pasha of Cairo sent his generous gifts to the United States military in the May of 1856 and February of 1857. Once James Buchanan took office only 40 additional camels came to Texas on a suspected slave ship in October of 1858 and were the only cargo allowed to be unloaded for a Mrs. M.J. Watson, assumed to be the wife of the manifest’s Thomas Watson. These camels were accepted at that time by the governor of Texas and kept on a ranch near Houston, Texas. Texas’s camels were mostly used for the transportation of military supplies to and from San Antonio, Texas up until the Civil War.

Photo by Zachary Spears on Unsplash

As an exception, in 1859 an expedition following the route that would become Route 66 (Modern Interstate 40) used the camels to traverse the western deserts of America. Eventually, during the Civil War these camels would be put to work hauling cotton and salt to attempt to keep up with British trade demands at critical Confederate ports not blockaded by the Union Navy. One individual used sixty-six camels to maintain a freight trade route from Texas to Mexico City.

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, a few import events from Africa, Russia, and Australia of hundreds of individuals from Arizona to British Columbia (though Canada sent them back!) mean that as of today we have a little over two thousand Arabian camels and around five hundred Bactrian camels distributed between zoos, viruses, breeders, and privately-held collections. Unfortunately, there is no official camel registry for individuals managed by the USDA, and their presence in the United States is poorly regulated. While there have been multiple import events of specific species of camels that could be differentiated with genetic evidence should studies be done on current populations, my question remains: are there currently feral camels in North America? If so, where are they and where did they come from?

Photo by Julius Yls on Unsplash

Feral Camels

While the import of camels for various purposes by the United States and the Confederacy provided a utilitarian purpose for the human support of domesticated populations, sightings of feral camel populations have dated back to at least the 1860s when they were used for the construction of the railroad across the American Southwest, with that population’s release location being Maricopa Wells, Arizona. These feral camels received the nickname “red ghost” or “el diablo” for their aggression as documented by their tendency to stop children and animals to death even though camels are better known for being docile and gentle. This individual was later killed when caught grazing on a farmer’s tomatoes according to one newspaper account according to Smithsonian magazine. But other stories claim witnesses saw “red ghost” killed by a grizzly bear. And yet more stories about feral camel sightings and their eventual demise in the wild or at the hands of humans.

One day a curious and frightening animal with a blobbish head, long and curving neck, and shambling legs, moseyed around the garrison…. the animal was one of the old army camels.”

Douglas MacArthur, 1885 (age 5)

One documented sighting of a feral camel comes from the childhood stories of the famous General MacArthur who was only five at the time in 1885. The records at the National Zoo suggest that feral camels were known to roam Texas until at least the 1890s. You can even visit the gravesite of a late camel driver that died while out in the desert hunting for the loose animals in Arizona. Several more sightings persisted through the early 20th century, particularly in the desert of Southern California and around the Salton Sea. Up until the 1970s, there were individuals insistent that camels still roamed the deserts of the American Southwest.

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

It’s not unreasonable to assume that feral camel populations still exist in the deserts of the North American continent, especially when considering the history of how the feral populations of camels in Australia became established. These are very durable animals that can withstand temperature extremes and internal body temperature fluctuations that could easily kill other mammals. There are even those that actively argue for the camel to make a comeback as an agricultural animal that needs to be re-established in the United States. And they aren’t alone – there are conservationists that agree. There are some that argue if feral populations do not currently exist they should perhaps be re-established as part of the efforts to revive the environment of the American Southwest that has been devastated by poor agricultural practices and specifically soil salinization. Arabian camels have a high salt tolerance in their diets and can help distribute salt that has been concentrated across a landscape. The biggest hurdle? Making the camels go feral in the first place.

But would the reintroduction of a related species be considered an invasive species? Would camels be considered an invasive species? Researchers have asked this too. Genetic evidence suggests that there may not be too big of a difference between the camels of today we could import and release versus the camels of tens of thousands of years ago. Vegetarian and omnivorous megafauna play a niche role in any ecosystem, especially one in which there used to, but no longer exist animals to take up that role. Some have suggested that camels could help fill that role in the United States.

Before we go out looking to bring more camels into the United States, we must first conduct a full survey of the population and determine how many individuals are here, whether or not they are feral versus domesticated, what diseases they are currently harboring, the state of their population genetics, and whether or not there exists a preexisting breeding population of feral camels that spans across the desert of Northern Mexico and the American Southwest. These individuals would likely be hybrids of the Arabian and Bactrian camels with primarily Arabian genetic lineage, with the potential for incorporating other individuals from other later import events, such as pie-bald breeding populations from Australia and Morocco. This could be done via aerial surveys, much like how there’s already aerial population monitoring of caribou and other megafauna in remote locations.

A current barrier to this is that the USDA currently regulated camels as exotic animals. The USDA’s regulations around exotic animals, and therefore all breeding, sales, and research are done under the same laws that govern all other exotic animals such as those kept in zoos. On the USDA’s website, in their FAQ on the subject, this is their response to the needs for owning an exotic “pet” for breeding, viewing, or research. These regulations prevent the USDA from regulating camels as livestock and this actually interferes with their ability to establish animal welfare standards. PETA helped shut down a camel ride operation this past August due to insufficient access to veterinary care for the animals used at the “park.” While I am someone that would normally point you toward numerous issues with PETA’s hypocrisy, in this case they are right. There is insufficient access to veterinary care for camels in the United States due to a lack of demand and lack of access to training and no regulation around what their health requirements are. The majority of workshops for veterinarians to attend to learn about treating camels are entirely funded by the private owners. If we were to implement a release program it would have to be done after major changes in regulation and improvements in wildlife veterinary medicine training included camels in the curriculum to ensure proper monitoring for their populations and health.

What are your thoughts? Should we reintroduce the camel to deal with soil salinization? Should we seek out potential feral camel populations? How much more research do we need?


Thank you for taking the time to read this article on feral camels in North America! What’s your opinion? There are no wrong answers here.

Antique How To Book: “Spirit Intercourse” (1917)

Just in time for Halloween we have “Spirit Intercourse” by J. Hewat McKenzie from 1917. But actually it was by his wife (?) and he wrote it down and got it published. It is very difficult to find information on her and it seems he fraternized with a number of mediums during his career as a businessman in parapsychology. His book was immensely popular in the United States during and in the aftermath of World War I. He even published pamphlets about what would happen to the spirits of soldiers attempting to make their way home to loved ones.

Who was his wife? We may never know.

Before we go any further, I need to thank the book seller that helped me find and acquire this book. Remember to support your small book stores this year!

Allen was a pleasure to work with, and so helpful. I highly recommend Burkeyme Books for finding rare and unusual books like this one! They’re very talented at acquiring unique special interest items, especially in regards to primary and period literature. Be sure to check them out 🙂

Spirit Intercourse

I don’t mean anything lewd. What the title means is communicating with and documenting interactions with the dead: aka Mediumship.

In 1917 this book would have gained popularity as Spiritualism began to have a resurgence with the rise of The Great War In Europe. With primarily young men and husbands being sent overseas from the United States with many uncertain how to communicate with their loved ones to confirm their living status, spiritualism was an option to turn to, much like earlier versions had been for seamen for a millennia before. This helped this book gain popularity, especially during and after the 1918 Influenza.

The American Spiritualism movement is complicated. I argue that reactions to Southern Religious Spiritism movements, westward expansion, the introduction of new technologies, and the Civil War had a major role to play with its rise in inland America during the 19th century, but that’s just me and an argument for another time. The main thing is it provided comfort and studies show talking to a deceased loved one do help people feel better. This book, though related, is from a Scottish parapsychologist and should not be confused too deeply with the American movement.

It’s important to note that “spiritualism” as a broad category with many forms is an internationally present form of traditional religious belief dating back farther than anyone really knows. There’s extensive crossover with indigenous cultures of all continents, including those conquered by the romans in Europe. The concepts of this differs from Animism and can be considered similar in philosophical concepts.

Anyways, for this Halloween special edition we are going to try out a few of these methods of communicating with the dead. We have some interesting dead people in Missoula, and I have some interesting dead family members and a number of other potential people to talk to since we live between two cemeteries (quiet neighbors!).

The hardest part was choosing what to do! plus, I can’t just leave all these explanations out, can I? So I’ll be doing a special Halloween Twitch stream reading aloud from this book tomorrow, 31 October 2020. We might even do a laser show (we’ll see how our uploading goes).

For today’s post and following instructions we are going to be focusing on chapter 6: First Steps To Spirit Intercourse. For more on the other chapters be sure to check out the Halloween Twitch stream tomorrow!

Chapter VI: First Steps To Spirit Intercourse

For each of these early preparatory sections from this chapter Jacob and I are going to share our comments on what we found most interesting.

Advice To Beginners

  • A recurring meme of antique how to books is how they are all “at considerable expense” – Jacob and I have both noted this in other antique how to books, regardless of their quality of information.
  • The author is salty (Jacob: very) at many people. Especially those in the fields of theology and psychology. But this is a safe thing for skeptics to do. He ain’t afraid of no ghosts.
  • Be polite – being too skeptical directly towards a medium is rude and causes problems…

Dangers

  • “This doesn’t actually say anything about what the dangers are” – I don’t disagree with Jacob on this.

Difficulties

  • Thoughts cause difficulties (Big Mood)
  • “Claiming to be spirits”

On To The How To!

Planchette

Similar to the planchette used for the Ouija board, this was a toy that took a pencil and drew on a piece of paper. First, one must “magnetize” the paper by having all participants rub their hands over it. Because we do not yet have one of the original style planchettes, we balanced the pencil between our fingers with hands flattened and asked a few questions. The suggested questions in the book were about relatives in Australia or the Pacific (New Zealand?), but we opted for Boston and Florida.

“Does anyone have new warts?”

I believe we can take that as maybe a “no” or “try again”

Table Tilting

Sit alternating male and female around an uncovered table and engage in pleasant but not frivolous conversation. Place hands upon the table and after a time the table will start to move and someone will need to take charge as the spirits get rowdy and begin moving things around. No minimum group size is recommended, so we decided to try with two.

It was surprisingly difficult to get this picture with our set up. Jacob kept trying to hit the camera remote with his toe (in the true spirit of Mediumship) and it kept timing out.

Automatic Writing

With attention otherwise otherwise occupied, hold a pencil and let it do its own thing on a piece of paper and see what happens.

I hope you enjoyed this fun jaunt through and antique how to book on Mediumship. Join me tomorrow on twitch.tv/dreaminventor for a livestream of more of the book being read aloud. Happy Halloween Everyone!

TIL: The Aldabra Rail Is Magic

I love flightless birds. You might even say they’re a favorite category of bird.

While my absolute favorite bird is the Okarito kiwi (and I promise to do a write up about why eventually), there are so many close runner ups. Flightless birds are badasses and they are disappearing. Fast.

But last year Janske van de Crommenacker et al published about their incredible discovery of a species of flightless bird re-evolving itself back into existence on the little island of Aldabra off the coast of Madagascar.

This brings into play, based on the fossil and what data we have recorded so far, the first documented case of iterative evolution.

They figured this out by comparing the current genome to historic DNA samples from the extinct species. This is practically the plot of Jurassic Park, except all done not by humans.

So, over 10,000 years, the Aldabra Rail evolved itself back into existence.

If you want to take something motivational away from this:

You can always reinvent yourself.

If an entire species can re-evolve itself back into existence – you can pick yourself back up and keep going.

You can survive whatever you’re going through. It may be arduous, but I promise you’ll find a way.

This was your motivational, slightly scientific TIL.

Please feel free to use the comment to share your thoughts and personal experiences openly and freely below – I reserve the comments section for that. Thank you for taking the time to read this today.

How To Shop For A Sextant Online During A Global Pandemic

Or… Shopping For My Spouse’s Birthday Gift

I shake my head and stare at the screen.

“I want to feel the brass and hold it. Feel the movement of each piece and know I’ll be able to calibrate it for him,” I whine to the cat. The autumn winds blowing down from Alaska drown out my words as they wind their way over the Rockies.

Staring at the pictures, I imagine the heavy brass of my family’s sextant balanced in my clumsy hands as my father lets me look at it. His calloused palms poised to catch the instrument should I falter.

“This one won’t do.” I toss it into the mental pile of surveying and mapping equipment I look at; never purchase.

Who can afford to spend over a thousand dollars on something like this over the internet? I mentally discard another with a fancier, more modern black finish.

I call my parents. “I want to buy Jacob a sextant for his birthday. What’s the story behind ours? Does Dad have any advice?”

Thousands of miles of static and telephone lines crackle. “The one your dad has was your great grandfather’s from the maritime academy. Why do you want one for Jacob?”

I pause and shrug into the phone. “To record our locations for dark sky photography. GPS can’t be trusted out here.” I grasp my forehead and castigate my own thoughts. But I’m the one that knows how to use one for surveying, navigation, and astronomy – that would be a terrible gift.

I stare out at the horizon hidden by mountains and try to find the ocean beneath the curvature of the earth. Jacob doesn’t care about the difference between a mile and a nautical mile. What does he care about?

I catch him and ask about his feelings around flying and clouds pass over the sun – visibility down to less than 5 miles and he gives me a look that says VFR ain’t going to fly. He never got a seaplane rating and this dream is about to try a water landing without pontoons. “I don’t know when the next time I’m going to fly is. Please don’t get me anything that could be related to flying.”

I decide against getting him a sextant and reminisce about when we spent hours talking about the intersection of history where airplanes and ships used the same navigation systems and why. I stare at the stormy sea of sky lapping against the mountain sides and remember our last aerial photography trip. I order his birthday cake and continue to brainstorm better gifts.

Montana now has the highest rate of transmission of any state. Distracted, I stare at the news and try to process how dangerous it is to step outside. This was all predictable based on the behavior patterns of 1918.

Birthdays have to remain special in the face of COVID, so I order wine and check our reservation for the weekend. I check that his favorite decaf pop and breakfast cereal are in the pantry. I try and decide what else we should do to make it a special day about him.

While most of the United States has been living with this since March, Jacob has been living with COVID since it first hit obscure global news last autumn and I brought it home by explaining how diseases follow human behavior patterns. In February I set up forecasting models and told him how to prepare before the preppers drained the stores of paper products, resulting in channeled anxiety and full isolation.

My incredible husband and love of my life sits with me in my mind while I wonder how to celebrate someone as amazing as him. I think of bonfires, quality time, adventures, and our daily lives. I think about these acts of preparation and foresight and how they are gifts and acts of love in themselves.

I buy Jacob 2 books and 2 glass vessels for his birthday following the theme: Scientific Magic. I write a blog post about not buying a sextant and realizing that was a dumb gift idea. I refuse to spoil the surprise while I continue further preparations and celebrate his existence everyday.


Happy Birthday to my amazing partner and best friend, Jacob. I have many best friends, but you are the one I married and the one I celebrate today. My forever partner in adventure 💕