(Steven Lane/The Columbian)
LA CENTER — He is arguably Clark County’s largest, if most unassuming, attraction. His mere presence makes children “ooh” and “ahhh” on parade routes, at farmers markets and in church auditoriums. His staggering size and gentle demeanor unlocks adults’ inner kids.
Literally and figuratively, Curly is a big deal. The 5-year-old camel is the largest of Jeff and Marilyn Siebert’s self-described “ark” of animals, standing 7-feet, 2-inches from hoof to hump and weighing a lean 1,000 pounds.
Yet, he conveys a friendly, and somewhat goofy, disposition — surprising for a camel, which are often associated with surliness and spitting. Curly has been known to nuzzle his nose on a stranger’s cheek. Not that they generally mind.
“Curly just touches people the way other animals don’t,” Jeff Siebert said.
That goes for Siebert, too. He broke his back in three places while working for a railroad company. The accident left him disabled. Caring for Curly is a form of therapy, he said.
“He truly blesses me,” Siebert said. “I’m not going to be one of those people who puts Curly in a field and has people look at him from a distance. I want them to get the same joy I get from him.”
The Sieberts purchased Curly from an exotic animal buyer who lives near Spokane when he was 5 months old. The couple bottle-fed for four month. The Sieberts named their camel Curly as a nod to the thin mat of auburn-colored hair atop his head.
They had previously cared for an adult camel for three months, and had become enamored of the giant, exotic-looking creatures.
Curly was different. He got along with everybody, animals and humans alike.
Curly is protective of smaller animals, particularly the Sieberts’ baby goats, and best friends with his next-stall neighbor, Danny the miniature donkey. He eats a half a bale of hay per day and drinks water from the hose.
Curly’s lips flap up and down in a comical fashion when he runs. He collects foam in his mouth when he’s frustrated. But, having never grown up around other camels, he doesn’t know how to spit.
Jeff Siebert enjoyed his young camel’s personality so much that he figured others would do the same. So he began bringing Curly to public events. The demand and interest, like Curly, has not stopped growing.
“We’ve had him exposed to everything at a very young age, which I think made him balanced with people and other animals,” Marilyn Siebert said.
Curly is perhaps best known for his “performances” in Living Hope Church’s live nativity scene in Vancouver. Many of the Sieberts’ other animals, including sheep, goats and Danny the donkey, also participate in the church’s nativity. Jeff Siebert often plays one of the wise men presenting the baby Jesus with gifts.
During the performance, pastor John Bishop narrates the story. When Curly walked in with the wise men, he became the center of attention, recalled Teresa Petker, the church’s program director.
“At that point, John lost all attention,” Petker said, noting young children sounded their enthusiasm out loud.
Curly also caused a stir recently when he visited the La Center Farmers Market. He has been known to eat apples out of people’s hands and nibble on people’s hair at such events.
“It is the coolest thing,” La Center Finance Director Suzanne Levis said. “Normally at a zoo, you’re 50 feet back and you don’t get to see how big their feet are and feel how soft their hair is.”
The Sieberts moved to an 8-acre home in La Center from Hockinson more than a year ago. There is plenty offenced-in expansein front of their home for Curly and the other animals to frolic. They bring Curly and other animals to events in a trailer hitched to the back of Jeff Siebert’s truck.
Camels are able to carry human passengers once they reach age 5, Jeff Siebert said. Soon, he plans to ride his camel in local parades.
On a recent afternoon, Jeff Siebert displayed the harnessing technique to onlookers at his home at 37702 N.E. 41st Ave. He grabbed the camel’s head and tapped on his legs. Siebert has trained Curly like this for years now.
“Koosh, koosh,” he commanded the camel in a firm voice.
As if hearing words spoken in his own camel language, Curly instantly started the laborious task of bending his front legs and then his back, until he was crouched with his legs under his torso.
Siebert stared at his obedient animal. In a tone reminiscent of baby talk, he said, “One day I’ll be riding you, huh Curly?”
Clark County’s largest attraction waited for his next command, before standing.