I'm completely hooked on this Facebook group called Between the Ears. It's like a window into landscapes all around the globe, but with a twist. Instead of just snapping regular photos, people take them while peeking through the ears of their animals. It's so much fun.

Most people take the photos while on horseback. Some take pics between dog ears or cat ears. But, one of my favorite group members takes photos from behind her very unusual animal's ears and I just love it when she posts. Esther Graham shares photos when she's riding her camel!

Now, why a camel, you ask? Well, why not, right? They're like these desert nomads, just in Illinois. I hit her up with some questions about her camel crew, and she was super cool about sharing her experiences.

Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

Tell me about your camel.

I actually have two camels, because they are a herd animal and shouldn’t be without at least one of their own kind. My main riding camel is Casper, a white dromedary (one hump) and he has a younger friend Kipo, a standard Bactrian (two humps). They are both geldings (fixed males) so I don’t have to worry about any hormones.
WGBF-FM logo
Get our free mobile app

How long have you had Casper and Kipo?

I bought Casper at age two and he will be nine this summer; Kipo will be five. They usually live to early 30s, and you can start riding them around age five although they are not fully grown until 8-10. Once fully grown they can carry up to 100% of their weight, so they are much better at packing a load than a horse.
Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

Okay, they are really cool, but why camels?

Well, I have always been a horse person but I fell in love with camel personalities on vacation and never got it out of my system. Turns out they are another domestic animal like horses and cows, and when raised correctly they are super smart, fast learners who love people and have a personality like a big puppy. They are extreme weather animals, and will happily exercise in heat or cold that would kill a horse. They are also very efficient and eat much less than horses or cows, preferring weeds or shrubs so they are great for pasture rotation with our horses.
Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

Where on Earth (or in the Midwest) did you find these camels?

I got my camels from Missouri and Texas, but there are a lot around. The female camels are very sought after for dairy, but the males are more affordable (similar pricing to horses). The camels are not rescues of course, and they don't have enough population in this country to lose their value when sick or badly trained (which is a really good thing for them) so anyplace claiming to have "rescue" camels in the USA is usually just lying to fundraise.
Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

Where have you ridden Casper and Kipo?

There is nowhere that I don’t like to ride them, but one of my favorite rides so far has been hauling to Big Bend National Park in Texas and riding around in the beautiful desert with a bunch of other camels and their owners.
Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

Do horses freak out when they see them?

We ride a ton of local horse trails and so far, we haven’t had any problems with horses on the trails themselves. We take a lot of precautions since we are also horse people; we spend way more time training them before taking them out compared to most horses, and I often ride double or triple with my young children since Casper is so well-behaved. We always ride with other horses in our group and we pull off, lay down to let riders pass or turn back to avoid them if convenient. Most horses don’t seem to notice us unless their riders stop, and then their reaction is based off their riders and each other. The majority just give us a long look, but some get snorty and excited until their riders move along. A camel on the trail is like meeting a deer, turkey, bicycle, child, etc so many trail horses are used to “different” things. We also meet many riders who want their horses to see the camels because they want them desensitized to everything they can find. In four years we only had one real mishap, and that was a woman who cut through our campsite on her horse and rounded our trailer to come face-to-face with our (at the time) baby camel. Her horse spooked and she fell off, which was very unfortunate but unpreventable by us. Now we tie our camels out front so hopefully people know not to cut through our site, but there is only so much we can do since there will always be riders and horses that don’t follow rules and/or aren’t ready to be out in public.
Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

How are they different from riding horses?

The biggest difference in riding is that they lay down to mount and dismount, and that they are super tall so we hit a lot of branches. For training, they are way smarter than horses but also need a reason to do something and aren't spooky/reactive. If people try to use force, they get aggressive and dangerous since they aren't scared like a horse. So you have to build a good relationship based on mutual understanding and then they are your best friend.
Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...

Besides trail riding, do Casper and Kipo have any other jobs?

I do take the camels to a lot of free community events, along with a few of our other animals that like to get out. I grew up poor and always wanted animals but couldn't afford to even ride the fair ponies, so now I just love offering free animal education and hopefully giving some kids like me the chance to be up close and personal with these guys! We also do some rehab and keep most of the severe cases, so we have acquired quite a collection of "problem" critters. We get basically all of our horses and donkeys from the kill pens and I like to retrain them, get them healthy, and find them good homes if possible so they can get a second chance on life. It's a huge waste of money but very rewarding.

Esther Graham
Esther Graham
loading...
Check out their animal rehab non-profit page Ships of the Prairie. 
I have to admit, I just really want to be best friends so I will someday be invited on a camel trail ride or at least for some camel snuggles.

Want more Illinois content? Check this out.

Can You Name All the Famous Hollywood Vehicles on Display at the Volo Museum in Illinois? [QUIZ]

The Volo Museum is also family-friendly, with a vast collection of vehicles that kids and big kids will appreciate, like the Flintmobile and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Turtle Van, as well as antique kiddie rides and an old-fashioned arcade! It all sounds too good to be true, but it clearly lives up to the hype based on the positive experiences detailed by reviewers and is sure to be a hit for any family looking to try something a bit different on their next trip near Chicago.

Gallery Credit: ASH

More From WGBF-FM