When I started working at the zoo in the mid-90s, the camels quickly became big favorites. Fatima was the sweet camel. She was calm and gentle and easy to work with and around. Karina, on the other hand... Karina was spirited and often difficult. She could never be completely trusted. I had to remain constantly aware of her location and aware that camels are capable of kicking in all directions. Karina was incredibly smart and in her younger days, enjoyed removing her halter or untying her lead rope so she could chase me around the yard. Karina was not only my favorite camel, she was also one of my favorite animals I've ever worked with at the zoo.
Karina was tall enough to be able to look over her 6 foot fence and she kept watch as I worked around the zoo. We'd call out to each other throughout the day. I'd yell "Hey, Karina!" and she'd gurgle back a camel reply. Or sometimes if I got caught up in my work and ignored her too long, she'd holler out at me with a rough gurgle I took as a reminder she was still there and I better pay attention. Even when I moved to a different area of the zoo and was no longer Karina's primary keeper, we still greeted each other daily. We were too far for verbal greetings, but she always gave me a rough nod.
In the past couple of years Karina's arthritis grew worse. She no longer chased keepers around the yard and was much calmer overall. However, she still liked to tease and pretend she was going to bite or kick while I was applying fly ointment or doing anything she didn't enjoy. She never did bite or kick, but I could never really trust her either. It was her fun game.
I spent our final weeks together brushing and grooming Karina (one thing she loved) and loading her up with treats such as apples and oranges. Karina taught me patience and more patience. She taught me that sometimes the difficult animals are the best. I'm glad I got to work with her daily in her final couple of months. I loved Karina and will miss her very much.