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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Camel Caravan Grinds to a Halt in Moscow

SYCHYOVO, Central Russia -- The 25 pungent Bactrian camels stood blithely chewing their hay, seemingly oblivious to the cold rain falling on their humps, the exotic blue sheep in the next pen f and their recent brush with death.

The camels, on their way from the Astrakhan region in southern Russia to Brazil via St. Petersburg, were seized by Moscow region authorities last week after five members of their caravan died due to poor ventilation in the trucks that were carrying them.

The survivors have been placed in the care of Sergei Aleskerov, the head of the Moscow Zoo's animal farm about 100 kilometers outside of the city. Aleskerov and his employees have dutifully nursed their wooly charges back to health, but the camels likely will not stay long and will simply continue their journey.

"Unfortunately, their fate is uncertain," Aleskerov sighed.

When the camels were first unloaded from the trucks, they were weak and thirsty. Now, 10 days later, all but three are on their feet again, and Aleskerov is confident the three that remain lying down most of the time will also get up soon.

Stanislav Romashkin, deputy director of the Moscow region's veterinary service, said his agency was contacted by the local veterinary service in Klin, where the drivers discovered the first dead camel. "They really packed them in," he said.

"They were pretty much keeping them in gas chambers," said Igor Muzicheko, deputy director of the Moscow Zoo.

The 30 camels, all about one year old and just recently weaned, had been bought by the Moscow firm Zoo Impeks from a camel farm in the Astrakhan region.

Nadezhda Trubitsina, wife of Vyacheslav Trubitsin, the director of Zoo Impeks, said her husband has an established animal-trade business, and this year started dealing in camels. She said it was the farm in Astrakhan that provided the trucks f two of which turned out to be not properly ventilated.

"There's never been a problem before," she said.

She said it was her husband who had contacted the veterinary service and that he was truly sorry about the incident. She said she did not know who in Brazil had ordered the animals or for what purpose.

While Zoo Impeks will get a bill for the camels' room and board at the farm, Romashkin said that neither Trubitsin nor the camel farm would face legal repercussions for the inhumane transport conditions. "We've done everything on our part," he said. "We'll get them better, and when they're better, they'll come get them."

But Romashkin's service may have played a part in some of the camel deaths. The Klin veterinary service and the Moscow region service took two days to make a decision about the camels, and the animals remained in the trucks and continued to die during this time, Muzicheko said.

The Bactrian camel is a two-humped species from Asia and is shorter, hairier and heavier than its Arabian counterpart.

These particular camels are of a domesticated breed but are used to running more or less free on the Astrakhan steppe and are skittish around humans.

When asked to step over the fence and join the camels for a photo op, Aleskerov reluctantly complied. Approaching them slowly and carefully, hand outstretched to show his peaceful intentions, the experienced zoo worker was summarily snubbed.

The animals, some still slightly wobbly from having their legs cramped in the trucks, backed away from him into a corner. When there was no more room to back up, they, one by one, ran speedily around him to the other side of the pen.

"Our camels are much more curious," Aleskerov said.

The zoo uses the 100-hectare farm, which was opened five years ago, to breed animals of all kinds, especially rare ones, such as the Chinese blue sheep that reside near the refugee camels. Aleskerov estimated the number of animals in the farm right now is about 200.