“Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo.  I do believe it.  I do believe it’s true.”

Source: the author.

“Someone told me it’s all happening at the Zoo.  I do believe it.  I do believe it’s true.”

Assiniboine Park Zoo, Winnipeg, December, 2019

A beautiful balmy day with no wind and temperature at -5 C!  The sky is gray and the animals look bigger today because they all sport winter coats, especially the wolves, the curious Sichuan Takin, and even Reddy the fox with fluffy sideburns.

Today the visit is brief; its target, the camels, three of them, two Bactrian (one whose two humps have collapsed down the left side!) and one Arabian (Dromedary).  Today they are all munching on what looks like hay and like the cattle I grew up with on the farm seem to be “chewing their cud”.  Apparently they have similar stomachs that enable them to do that!

Deep winter or heated summer, extreme cold or heat, the camels are always in their compound.  Bactrians are well adapted for extremes in temperature since they hail from northern Asia which has the same climate variations as we do in Winnipeg!  Besides having dense coats, unlike humans, their body temperature can ‘fluctuate’. And so they can manage harsh conditions be it mountains, deserts, rough plains, or even sand dunes.

The wild Bactrian camels are critically endangered and for a while were thought to be extinct.  In 1957 a herd was found in the Gobi desert!  The Dromedary (which only have one hump) have been domesticated for over 2000 years.  The wild Dromedary have been extinct for the same number of years!  (However, domesticated Arabian camels were introduced to Australia and now flourish there as feral animals.)

Humps are what both species have in common.  Fat is stored in the humps which enable them to survive through drought– no water or food for many many days.  They also have the ability to absorb enormous amounts of water in one ‘drink’!

Camels strike me as almost alien in appearance fitting into a Star Wars kind of world.  Perhaps that is what attracts me to them.  But most of all is their Christmas association, not biblical, but a lovely tradition connection.  I was thinking of them as I used Magi stamps on some of my Christmas cards, remembering the creche under the tree in my boyhood home was never complete without all the animals, sheep, oxen, donkey, AND camels!

Sometimes the camels and Magi made the trip around the room before appearing at the creche itself on January 6th!  In the new creche with 33″ figures here at St. Ignatius Parish last year we decided to have the kings present in front of the altar throughout the Christmas season.  But we did not have a camel.

This year we will have all the animals represented, one lamb, one oxen, one donkey, and ONE CAMEL!   I look forward to their appearance!  And heading home I resolve to visit the three zoo compound camels once again before Christmas to remember the story of their ancestors’ long journey to seek out the Christ Child in Bethlehem.


Photos courtesy of the author.

Frank Obrigewitsch, SJ, is pastor of St. Ignatius parish in Winnipeg.

  • Esther Gilbert
    Posted at 09:37h, 14 December Reply

    Yes, that reminds me of ours. We added any other little animal statues we had and moved them around the room. Pigs, goats, a fisher person, dogs, cats, whatever. One year after my daughter returned from Africa we had a giraffe. Everyone made the pilgrimage. Thank you for reminding me.

  • Peter Bisson
    Posted at 11:48h, 14 December Reply

    Thank you Frank!

  • Enid Robins-Holm
    Posted at 17:04h, 14 December Reply

    I visited them last summer but love the look of them in the snow! God made some amazing creatures!

  • Lorraine Majcen
    Posted at 11:43h, 15 December Reply

    Thank you Fr Frank, that’s a beautiful story and reminder of simple but important details and facts. God bless you.

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