We were alarmed and saddened yesterday to see the tragic news about a dromedary camel in Obion County, belonging to Shirley Petting Zoo. The animal went on a rampage and killed two men, trampling a police vehicle before finally being shot to death.
This comes just a few months after a similarly bizarre and shocking story— also here in Tennessee— about a man who killed his neighbor’s aggressive kangaroo that had escaped.
With two deaths now attributable to a camel in Tennessee, that means that camels have officially killed more Tennesseans than our much-maligned and misunderstood native snake, the Eastern copperhead.
As we mentioned in previous posts, copperhead venom is not as dangerous as many assume. Many of their bites are “dry” and even bites with venom are statistically unlikely to kill someone who promptly seeks medical attention. In the last seventy years, the only death in Tennessee caused by a copperhead involved a man in Chattanooga who was allergic to copperhead venom, was probing its butthole, and then refused medical attention for ten minutes after the bite occurred.
Not surprisingly, it turned out that the snake was part of his friend’s traveling roadside reptile show— it was, like the camel in Obion County, stressed and mishandled.
Risks from other wild animals are also overestimated: only two people have ever been killed by coyotes globally, in all of recorded history. No record exists on any fox or bobcat ever fatally attacking a human— even a newborn!— in North America. The lifetime risk of being seriously harmed by an unprovoked wild animal is next to none.
So often, we encounter people who are afraid of our local wildlife, but events over the course of the last several decades have shown that Tennesseans have a much greater reason to be afraid of the stressed, sick, and inadequately contained animals often held in our region’s roadside zoos.
Please, if you have a fear of being hurt by animals, use that fear constructively to help end the era of roadside zoos and for-profit exotic animal “collections.” You can actually help improve public safety and the welfare of animals by boycotting these establishments and pushing for stricter enforcement of existing state and federal laws.
Leave our native wildlife to live in peace.