Should Camels Be On Campus?

Spring Break the year of 2013 was a vacation I’ll never forget. It was the first time I’d ever been on a cruise, and while the week on the water is filled with happy and amazing memories, there’s one moment that stands out in a much different light. To this day the moment below remains one of my top regrets in life.

This is a photo of me holding a baby lion in Cozumel, Mexico. His name was Simba. He’s cute, right? At the time I thought so too. However, this may or may not come as shocking news, but lions are not, nor have they ever been, native to Mexico. And yet for a mere $15 we were able to have our picture taken while holding the cub. It was a tourist trap, and regrettably, it was one we fell for.

I can still remember how agitated he was, continuously crying out and fidgeting in the arms of tourists. Like a toy, he was passed from the arms of one paying customer to the next, his wellbeing and happiness unaccounted for. With great shame and reluctance, I admit I was absolutely aware of the state of emotional distress Simba was in. It was clear from the moment I saw him being handled by the men running the photo station. Even still, at fifteen years old I was vain and discounted my actions as having any real consequence, and so I paid for the photograph.

Looking back on that choice today I still feel blooming shame. I enabled an industry that was exploiting animals for profit. Who knows how long that cub was forced to be held by one tourist after another in the blazing heat? Who knows where the cub's mother was, or even how it came to Mexico? And so that moment stands as one of my top regrets in life.

To be fair, I’ve always been extremely sensitive to animals in captivity. While I went to the Zoo and even Sea World when I was young, the older I became the more aware I was of the animals emotional pain. It was as if I could feel it in my core. It’s something I feel so deeply that I no longer eat any animal products. Not even cheese.

The Wednesday of UPC Social Media Week there were two live camels on campus for Hump Day; an older camel and a baby. I kid you not, I received at least eight text messages from other students on campus notifying me that they were at the Union Building. I had the same initial reaction as my fifteen-year-old self, I was excited and wanted to see them! But as I thought about it a little longer, I realized seeing the camels on campus would only break my heart.

It is important to understand I am not suggesting the camels were in any way being mistreated or not being cared for appropriately. This clearly was not the same situation as the baby lion in Mexico. There were handlers present throughout the entirety of the day that were qualified to care for the camels, and made sure the situation was safe for both the students and the animals. I recognize and respect that the camel’s wellbeing was accounted for in this situation.

Still, there’s a certain question of morality to the whole situation. Later in the day, friends who initially texted me about the camels began to feel the same sympathy for them as I did, confiding to me it didn’t seem right they were on campus. After all, they were there for many hours, sitting on the concrete as one by one, students continuously approached to pet them. After many photos of the camels were posted similar comments of concern were voiced by other students, but they were met with defensive reactions consisting of accusations with vocabulary such as “kill-joys”.

All I can say is, regardless of whether or not a person agrees that camels are probably not the most appropriate form of entertainment, and shouldn’t be subjected to college campuses, judging a person for voicing legitimate concern is never the appropriate response.

Still, I’ll accept the title of kill-joy, for it’s not the joy of myself or other students I’m concerned about in this situation, but the joy of the camels. Perhaps during any future events, we should consider the question, should camels really be on a college campus?