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Bactrian camels in serendipity

Posted at 9:25 AM on June 9, 2008 by Euan Kerr

Imagine my surprise, having just watched "The Story of the Weeping Camel," when I tripped over another bactrian camel in Milos Forman's autobiography "Turnaround."

He relates in the book how just after the end of World War Two and the German retreat from the Czech town where he lived, he woke up one morning to discover a camel outside his window. It was just standing there chewing the cud. While he wondered how it got there, so far from its home in the Gobi desert, the more immediate question was what to do with it.

Forman and some friends decided the best place for it would be the zoo. The only problem was, the nearest was in Prague, some 80 miles away.

With the kind of ingenuity which was to serve him well in his film making career, Forman and his friends arranged a relay of friends through the Boy Scouts to guide the beast to the capital.

Of course even a good plan can run into painful problems, in this case the stubborn nature of the camel. Even with a rope around its neck the boys were powerless to stop it if a particular bush looked appetizing and the camel headed over for a snack.

Things got even more complicated when they met a Red Army patrol coming along the road. This time the camel refused to move, and the Russian commander pulled out his service revolver and prepared to shoot the animal in the head.

The boys tried to argue with him, but the soldier was unmoved - that is until the camel suddenly spat a huge slimy wad of cud which smacked the young Forman in the back of the head. This caused the Russian to smile and put away his gun. The camel then allowed the boys to drag it out of the way.

In time the boys passed their charge to the next group in the relay. Forman says he never learned if it made it all the way to the zoo.

He did learn that the camel was from a small German circus which had been touring the Czech countryside. When the war ended some locals decided they wanted revenge against the Germans - any Germans. They attacked the circus and killed everyone and all the animals except the camel which somehow escaped and made its way to Forman's window,

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