For the last two years, three year old Elsie Dyer, along with her parents Billy and Marie, have made one of their regular trips to Banham Zoo in January. The trip is not just to see the animals but is also so that they can donate their Christmas tree to the animals, and on each occasion they have asked if it’s possible for it to go to Elsie’s firm favourites, the Bactrian camels.
After the birth of the zoo’s latest camel calf, Elsie’s parents, who are annual pass holders at the zoo, got in contact to see if there was anyway Elsie could help name the camel. Naming of animals is usually a privilege reserved for the keepers that work with them but knowing of Elsie’s affection for their latest arrival the keepers at Banham wanted to help encourage her passion for animals.
So instead of agreeing upon a name themselves, the zoo keepers decided to come up with a six-name shortlist and Elsie was invited to come along and pick her favourite as well as getting the opportunity to see the zoo’s latest arrival.
Animal Manager Mike Woolham said, “For the last two years I have met Billy, Marie and Elsie when they have come to the zoo to donate their tree and it’s obvious that she has a real soft spot for these wonderful animals. We have for some years now accepted a limited number of Christmas trees because they can be used as great enrichment for many of our animals”.
So what name did Elsie opt for in the end, she chose to call the new camel Sopwith and was rewarded for her help by the zoo with a cuddly toy and a year’s sponsorship of Sopwith to remind her how she helped the keepers pick his name.
Sopwith has now been introduced to the zoo’s other camel, Scrummy and can be seen inside the camel enclosure in the centre of the zoo.
Although the camels housed at the zoo are of the domestic variety, their wild counterparts from China and Mongolia are considered a Critically Endangered species[i] with less than 1000 animals currently living in the wild. The zoo regards its domestic camels as valuable ambassadors for their wild counterparts and the additional interest that the new calf will inevitably create will, they hope, provide more focus on the conservation efforts currently underway to protect their wild cousins.
[i] IUCN red data list